FINE LINES AND DISTINCTIONS
Murder, Manslaughter and the Unlawful Taking of Human Life
By Terrence Morris and Louis Blom-Cooper
ISBN: 978 1 904380 66 5
CALLING FOR ‘A ROOT AND BRANCH REFORM OF THE LAW OF HOMICIDE’
An appreciation by Phillip Taylor MBE and Elizabeth Taylor of Richmond Green Chambers
In the Foreword to this thought provoking book, Lord Judge writes: ‘I doubt whether any reader of this book will agree with everything in it. And I readily admit that, although happy to write the Foreword to such a stimulating and important work, I do not.’
That the Lord Chief Justice should state unequivocally that he cannot agree with everything written in a book for which he has written the Foreword is less dismaying than inspiring when you come to think of it. It exemplifies the tradition of fair comment, fair play and fair minded debate, not to mention the (almost) universal acceptance in the UK of the principle of agreeing to disagree.
Yes, the book is controversial. And on reading it, you may not entirely agree with it either, although you may well agree with it in part. The subject matter is murder: – the various kinds of murder; whether murder, or manslaughter, whether deliberate or accidental -- and the punishments, whether appropriate or inappropriate -- that have resulted and/or should result.
What does result—and the book is pretty convincing here – is that poorly thought out ‘messy laws’ confuse juries, while ‘adept legal minds’, not to mention ordinary folk, are equally confounded by ‘fine lines and distinctions’ typically (but not always) of the kind referred to above.
The ‘fine lines and distinctions’ of the title echo the words of both Lady Wootton and Lord Parker in the course of the Parliamentary debate which led to the abolition of the death penalty in the UK in 1965. In its place remains the mandatory life sentence for murder and all the attendant difficulties emanating from that.
Following years of copious research, analysis and professional experience both eminent and distinguished authors agree that ‘the English law of homicide is in a mess.’
Reference is made throughout to specific cases; for example the case of Tony Martin, the Norfolk farmer who eventually was sentenced initially to life imprisonment for murder and following an appeal, to five years for manslaughter, on grounds of diminished responsibility for shooting and killing a burglar who, with his cohorts, had persistently targeted his property.
One is reminded on reading this, of the thorny issues raised by this case and the controversies that raged around it and still do. One is also reminded of the current proposals to protect householders from prosecution resulting from having to defend their homes and families against criminal intrusion. The complexities which could result, most of which are raised in this book, are truly and oppressively mind-blowing.
Published in 2011 by the Waterside Press, this timely, provocative and certainly topical book puts forward a closely argued and well supported case for encouraging ‘a root and branch reform of the law of homicide’, a reform which must depend on legislation and therefore parliamentary -- and we would add, public support. The book will therefore provide ample evidence and ammunition to those who would agree that such a reform should be put in place as a matter of urgency.
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