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Last Updated: Friday, 6 August, 2004, 15:25 GMT 16:25 UK
Murder laws 'should be reformed'
The commission suggests different kinds of murders could be graded
The law on murder in England and Wales is "a mess" and should be overhauled, advisers have told the government.

The Law Commission said it had found wide support among criminal justice professionals for an end to the mandatory life sentence for murder.

The panel suggested different kinds of murders could be "graded" to recognise the seriousness of the offence.

But the Home Office said mandatory life sentences would not be abolished and argued courts already had flexibility.

Law 'indefensible'

The commission, an independent body including two judges, a senior barrister and sentencing experts, had been asked to consider reforms to the defence of provocation in murder cases.

But it said its proposals were unlikely to work without a far wider review of the law.

Results of a consultation exercise showed 64 respondents out of 146 - among them 21 judges - believed a mandatory life sentence for every murder was "indefensible and should cease".

The present law of murder in England and Wales is a mess
Law Commission

Alan Wilkie, a judge on the commission, believes that the current law is "utterly incoherent and it doesn't accord with public perception".

He told Radio 4's Today programme: "In the long term or at least in the medium term we have indicated that there should be a review of the law of murder which would cover a number of things.

"It would look at what should be the constituent elements of the offence of murder and the possibility of grading murder within the basic offence of murder."

It is not the murder laws that need reforming but the judges who hand down the sentences
Roshan, UK

He added that the review should also look at how defence should be conducted and whether other offences - currently covered by the existing charge of murder - could be identified.

The panel is to ask Home Secretary David Blunkett for permission to launch a major review of murder laws - the first such wholesale re-examination for 50 years.

Jealous husband

A key question was whether one category should continue to cover all types of murder from mercy killings to serial or contract killings.

The commission found support for the idea of grading murders, so that the sentence reflected the seriousness of the offence.

It also wants to tighten the law so that the provocation defence cannot be used in cases where someone has killed for revenge, for example a jealous husband who murders an unfaithful wife.

The Home Office has insisted the mandatory life sentence for murder will remain.

The public are fed up of hearing life sentences being given out but not served
Mark Oaten
Liberal Democrat home affairs spokesman

Home Office minister Baroness Scotland said: "Murder is the most serious of crimes and we have no intention of abolishing the mandatory life sentence.

"Where an offender is convicted of murder, the court must pass a life sentence."

She said the courts already had flexibility in sentencing murderers because they could impose minimum terms.

The government should make an announcement on reform of the provocation defence in the autumn, she said.

Liberal Democrat home affairs spokesman Mark Oaten said reform would restore confidence in sentencing.

"The current system of life sentences is a mess and the public are fed up of hearing life sentences being given out but not served," he said.

"Whilst the option of a life sentence should always be available, it is wrong for a victim of domestic violence to receive the same sentence as someone who has killed a child."

The BBC's Jon Brain
"The commissioners concluded that the law on murder is a mess"

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10 Mar 04  |  Politics

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