You now have the power to kill someone in the UK and be found Not Guilty of either their murder. This is the apparent verdict of Leeds Crown Court, which has acquitted a teenager of the attempted murder of her own mother.
Unfortunately though, the teenager in question was convicted of section 20 of the Offences Against the Person Act (“malicious wounding”), which means that if death had occurred she would still have been guilty of manslaughter. NB: life imprisonment is the maximum sentence for manslaughter, though unlike murder it is not mandatory. As it was, she was given a suspended sentence.
The teenager and her family came from Zimbabwe where belief in the the occult is widespread. Interestingly in order to convict her of malicious wounding, the Jury implicitly accepted evidence that she was not insane at the time of the offence. In sentencing, the Judge said.
“[She] believes she was doing what the spirits told her to do which reduced her culpability significantly.
“Since she knew what she was doing she should have fought against what she was told to do.”
Now this is an innovation in the law which appears to have crept in since I was at University! You will probably have heard of the old adage: “Ignorance of the law is no defence.” So what we have got here is the following situation:
- The jury hears that the teenager believes someone or something is telling her to stab her own mother – which she does;
- The jury also accepts that the teenager was not insane, acting like an automaton, or in a dissociative state;
- The teenager is not allowed to plead ignorance of the law relating to murder.
What, therefore, is the correct verdict? If one assumes that the accused did actually want to cause her mother’s death – albeit at the behest of these spirits – it should be Guilty of Attempted Murder. What the jury seems to have done is assume that belief in disincarnate spirits, which does not amount to insanity, is somehow a mitigating factor – that it makes the accused Reckless as opposed to Intentionally violent.
This would be like me being acquitted of Theft because Valefar put me up to it. Actually this could be a good wheeze, the more I think about it. Theft is a crime of strict Intent. There is no such thing as Reckless Theft, so if a jury found that I did not have sufficient mens rea for the full offence, there would be no lesser offence for me of which to be convicted. Hence I would walk completely free! Sorted. 😉