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Murder & Manslaughter – Sentencing

Murder is the most serious crime in England and Wales and prosecutions are often extremely complex. Murder is defined as the unlawful killing of another under the King’s peace with the intention to kill or cause Grievous Bodily Harm, otherwise known as Malice Aforethought.

Fixed term sentences

For any adult convicted of murder, it carries a mandatory life sentence that will have a minimum fixed term attached to it. This is the period of time that must be served before being eligible for parole. Upon release the person remains on licence for the remainder of their life.

The starting point for these fixed terms are:

  • 30 years (for offences involving a firearm)
  • 25 years (for offences involving a knife)
  • 15 years (for all other offences)

Whole life orders

There is an exception to this if the offence is so high that a whole life order will be applied. Cases which normally apply to this are when:

  • There is the murder of two or more people with a substantial degree of planning, abduction or sexual motivation
  • The murder is of a person under the age of 18 involving planning, abduction or sexual motivation
  • The murder of a child involving planning, abduction or sexual motivation
  • Any political, religious or ideological murders
  • The murder of a police officer while they are on duty
  • The offender has been previously convicted of murder, subsequently released and murdered again.

Murder sentencing for youths

Whole life orders do not apply to youths convicted of murder. The court must sentence the youth to be detained at his Majesty’s pleasure. Instead of handing down a whole life order, the below aggravating and mitigating factors are considered.

Aggravating factors

  • A significant degree of planning
  • Use of a weapon
  • The victim was vulnerable because of their age or disability
  • Mental or physical suffering inflicted on the victim before death
  • The abuse of a position of trust
  • The use of duress or threats against another person to facilitate the commission of the offence
  • The victim was providing a public service
  • Concealment, destruction or dismemberment of the body.

Mitigating factors

  • An intention to cause serious harm rather than intention to kill
  • Lack of planning
  • The offender suffers from a mental disorder or disability which lowers their culpability
  • The offender was provoked
  • The offender acted in self-defence
  • A belief by the offender that the murder was an act of mercy
  • The age of the offender


Manslaughter is an alternative verdict that can be returned on a prosecution for murder. Section 6 Criminal Law Act 1967 states a person found not guilty of murder may be found guilty of manslaughter.

Manslaughter differs from murder as the person does not have the intention to kill or cause serious harm.

The evidence needs to be considered to determine whether it is sufficient for a charge of murder and whether a partial defence may exist or not. If the intent for murder cannot be established, a charge of manslaughter is to be considered.

The prosecution should decide in advance of a murder trial whether or not an alternative count of manslaughter should be added to the indictment.

Manslaughter can be committed in three ways:

  • Killing with the intent for murder but where a partial defence is applicable. (Loss of control, diminished responsibility or killing as part of a suicide pact)
  • The conduct was grossly negligent (gross negligence manslaughter)
  • The conduct took the form of an unlawful act involving danger or harm that resulted in death (unlawful act manslaughter)

Voluntary manslaughter is commonly used to describe the first.

Involuntary manslaughter is used to categorise the latter two of the three.

Manslaughter sentencing

The Sentencing Council Manslaughter Guideline focus on culpability and identify high, medium and low culpability factors. There is no identification of harm factors caused as it is accepted that the harm will always be of the highest severity due to the nature of the offence.

The starting point for loss of control cases is 14 years and for diminished responsibility (abnormality of the mind) it is 24 years.

This is because the facts must be analysed and be clear as to the type of plea they are going to accept. This should always be identified before sentencing. If there is any dispute about the type of offence, then the judge needs to give clear reasoning as to the basis of the sentence.

The minimum term to be served when the life sentence is passed for murder is also considered in manslaughter cases. The main difference is the minimum term for murder represents the time that must be served in prison but for manslaughter it is generally half the number of years specified by the court.

Section 5 of the Domestic Violence, Crime and Victims Act 2004 extends the offence to include allowing a child or vulnerable adult to suffer serious physical harm, including death. Where the child suffered serious physical harm the maximum sentence is 10 years but when death occurs the maximum sentence raises to 14 years.

Olliers Solicitors – Specialist Criminal Defence Lawyers

If you are facing an allegation of murder or manslaughter, you should contact a specialist solicitor. Olliers have a specialist team who will be able to assist in achieving the best outcome. Contact us by telephone on 0161 834 1515, by email to info@olliers.com or complete the form below.

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