Changes to manslaughter sentencing guidelines

Written 2nd April 2024 by Isobel Phillipson

Olliers’ Isobel Phillipson considers the recent changes to manslaughter sentencing guidelines

How is manslaughter defined?

Manslaughter is where an unlawful killing occurs, but without an intention to kill or cause grievous bodily harm. Apart from the absence of the relevant intent, all other elements of the offence are the same as for murder.

The maximum sentence available for manslaughter is life imprisonment.

What are the different types of manslaughter?

  • Involuntary Manslaughter – there are two classes of involuntary manslaughter: unlawful act manslaughter, manslaughter by gross negligence.
  • Unlawful Act Manslaughter – this is the most common type of manslaughter. This is where a death occurs due to a criminal act, which a reasonable person would realise must subject another to at least the risk of some physical harm. This includes deaths that occur as a result of assaults.
  • Manslaughter by Gross Negligence – this occurs when someone breaches their duty of care towards the victim, which then causes their death. Their conduct must be so bad that it amounted to a criminal act or omission.
  • Voluntary Manslaughter – this occurs when all the elements for murder are indeed present, i.e. there is an intention to kill or cause really serious harm. However, the offence is reduced from murder to manslaughter due to either: loss of control, or diminished responsibility.
  • Diminished Responsibility – this means that the offender’s ability to understand the nature of the conduct, form a rational judgement, and/or exercise self-control, was substantially impaired. This must have arisen from a recognised medical condition, and provide an explanation for their acts or omissions in terms of the killing. This has the effect of reducing that defendant’s criminal liability, but does not completely absolve them from liability.
  • Loss of Control – again, this is only a partial defence which reduces criminal liability. There must be a loss of self-control, which had a qualifying trigger, and a person of the defendant’s sex and age, with a normal degree of tolerance and self-restraint, and in the same circumstances, might have reacted in the same or a similar way.

Changes to manslaughter sentencing guidelines

Changes have been made to the sentencing guidelines for the offence of manslaughter.

These came into force from 1st April 2024. The changes come in response to recommendations made by the Domestic Homicide Sentencing Review. The last changes in sentencing were in 2018, however there were concerns that this no longer sufficiently reflected what are now more common offences and circumstances, that may exist in the context of manslaughter.

The report published did recognise that it was already an aggravating factor if there was a history of violence or abuse towards the victim by the offender. However, the aggravating factors did not include the offence involving coercive control or strangulation. This seemed to be a gap that needed filling within the guidelines. Controlling and coercive behavior is a fairly new offence, which is slowly becoming more recognised and talked about, both within and also outside of the criminal justice system.

The review however concluded that controlling and coercive behavior is still quite poorly understood and is often overlooked specifically in the context of intimate partner killing. The recommendations made in relation to coercive control were two fold. Firstly, where there has been coercive control on the part of the perpetrator of the killing towards the victim, this would act as an aggravating factor, increasing the seriousness of the offence. Secondly, coercive control by the victim of the killing towards the perpetrator of the killing, would act as a mitigating factor, which reduced the seriousness. It is hoped that as understanding of coercive control become more widespread, that all cases which have resulted in homicide, where the requisite intention for murder is present, will be carefully considered.         

This review triggered a government response, which suggested reforming the law in order for sentencing to reflect the seriousness of domestic homicides. The reforms in relation to manslaughter will be as follows.

Controlling and Coercive Behaviour

The sentencing guidelines will refer to controlling and coercive behavior, to reflect up to date terminology. It is hoped that the context of the killing, in terms of coercive control, will be specifically taken into consideration if relevant, and therefore appropriately reflected in the sentence given.


A new aggravating factor, ‘use of strangulation, suffocation or asphyxiation’ will be introduced. This is to ensure that the seriousness of strangulation is not overlooked in sentencing, and to make the guidelines more consistent with those for assault.

Olliers Solicitors – leading law firm specialising in defending allegations of manslaughter

Olliers Solicitors have significant experience of defending those charged with manslaughter. If you require advice in relation to a manslaughter investigation please contact our new enquiry team either by email to, or by telephone on 020 3883 6790 (London) or 0161 834 1515 (Manchester) or by completing the form below.

Isobel Phillipson

Isobel Phillipson



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