Harsh, Perhaps, But Fair

“It was surreal – and never more so than when the police liaison officer told me that there was no question of a manslaughter charge because the law is not about consequences but about intent.”

Well quite.

What in hell does anyone think it\’s supposed to be about?

15 comments on “Harsh, Perhaps, But Fair

  1. This seems to be the usual special treatment for motor vehicles and their drivers, rather than a proper case regarding intent. I am sure there are some lawyers lurking that can actually state the British law on this but I always thought that intent was the difference between manslaughter and murder?

    Murder: somebody died either because you intended to kill them or because you were committing a criminal (or criminally negligent) act which caused them to die.

    Manslaughter: somebody died because of something you did or failed to do. Also needing some degree of culpability / ability to foresee consequences.

    Dodgy analogyies:

    If I fired a rifle without looking where I was aiming it (or just looking at the target and failing to notice the people close to the target area) then I would be culpable and expect to be prosecuted for any death or injury.

    You don’t get cases of “poisoning baby food without due care and attention”.

    Maybe I’m just not getting it.

  2. “…I always thought that intent was the difference between manslaughter and murder?”

    Me too.

    From the article: “Equally vivid is her anger at what she sees as a miscarriage of justice over her mother’s death – one of “too many” killings of cyclists by lorries, as the coroner said at the inquest.”

    This is puzzling – just how many killings of cyclists by lorries would be ‘just enough’…?

    On second thoughts, the cyclist I saw last night, riding a black bike, in dark clothing, in the dark with no lights certainly needs removing from the gene pool before he pollutes it by breeding…

  3. “or because you were committing a criminal (or criminally negligent) act which caused them to die.”

    That’s manslaughter. Murder is when you intended for them to die.

    “Manslaughter: somebody died because of something you did or failed to do.”

    No, that’s merely being a PCSO and watching a child drown in a pond.

  4. There is a very serious point of road safety instruction here, and one which I (a former driving instructor) have no idea if it is generally taught, which is that if you can’t see the drivers face in his side mirror looking at you, then it is a fair bet he can’t see you.

    So take evasive action. Take it anyway. You haven’t just got to see, you’ve got to be seen.

    Even more true when you are on a bike – it’s you that dies, not him.

    Go out in front of him, go on the pavement, or wait till he goes.

    Don’t sit there looking at the pretty traffic lights, because green doesn’t mean go, it means go if it’s safe to go.
    Always has done – look in your Highway code of any vintage.

    Ms Barlow is to be commended for succeeding in doing something important after her daughter’s death. Absolutely.

    Surely it is defensively oriented bike training that is more necessary – it’s not only lorries that kill.

    My own grandfather was killed on a bike by a bus in the blitz. My cousin was crippled by a car.

  5. Absolutely. Intent has nothing to do with it. There would be far fewer prosecutions if only intent was taken into account and not the consequences of one’s actions. I’m sure the men recently convicted of kicking a man to death (actually, there have been several recent cases so take your pick) could perfectly reasonably claim it wasn’t their intention to kill but just to give the victim a good hiding. Fortunately, in those cases, the rather bizarre views of the liason officer quoted above didn’t take precedence.

  6. Kay Tie: “Murder is when you intended for them to die.” Wrong.

    There does not have to be intention in order to be charged with murder. If I punch someone and they fall, hit their head and die I will probably be charged with manslaughter. No intention. If I stab someone three times in the chest and he dies my intentions are irrelevant because my actions would be construed by any reasonable person to be likely to cause death. Hence a murder charge would follow.

  7. “Manslaughter: somebody died because of something you did or failed to do.”

    I thought it was more complicated than that – more about wilful disregard or recklessness, than simply an accident occurring.

  8. The driver should not have been attending to his paperwork as he took the turn. However, the cyclist should not have been trying to take the turn on the inside of a driver who probably could not see her. Being able to do that doesn’t make it right or sensible to do so.
    There seems to be a misconception here, that assigns innocence to those who end up dead, and guilt to those who survive.

  9. “the law is not about consequences but about intent.”

    Quite so and Tony Blair is a lawyer, which for his psyche meant it didn’t matter what happened in the Iraq war providing he started out with ‘good’ intentions.

    “Honderich is also a consequentialist, which partly explains his hatred towards Tony Blair. ‘He is always asking to be judged by the morality of his intentions,’ he spits. ‘He doesn’t understand that no one cares about his f*cking morality. We judge him by the consequences of his actions. In any case, his morality is so muddy and ill-considered. I’m increasingly coming to the opinion that Blair’s main problem is that he’s not very bright.'”
    http://education.guardian.co.uk/higher/profile/story/0,11109,1442709,00.html

    Btw “It takes a certain genius to earn the implacable, simultaneous hostility of both the neo-Zionists and the Palestinians, but Honderich has managed it without much effort and, to complete the hat trick, he has become persona non grata for New Labour. . . For many years Ted Honderich was Grote professor of philosophy at University College London.”

  10. The problem with intent is that, as someone else said, criminals very rarely intend, or say they intend, the consequences of their actions. So English law has always allowed “constructive” intent. You can infer that intent should have existed. So the best example is Felony Murder. Any death that resulted from the commission of any felony is murder – and murder even for those people who took any part in the felony but did not pull the trigger themselves. So if you and I rob a bank and you’re sitting in the get-away car outside, and a police man accidentally shoots a passer by, we’re both equally guilty of murder. The idea is that we should have thought about the consequences of our actions, and the likely results, before setting off. And we probably did. There is also the Deadly Weapon rule. If I stab you with a sharp object then even if I did not want to kill you, my choice of weapon can be used to infer a state of mind – by using a deadly weapon I can be presumed to have formed the correct criminal intent. Negligent homocide can range from accident to man slaughter to murder depending on how negligent it is. If I plant a landmine in my front garden, I may not intended to blow someone up but there is a good chance I might. If I put a poisonous chemical like glycol in some medicine and people in Latin America die, that could be said to be murder even if I did not intend it. China has just executed the head of their FDA for that reason. Someone else put the chemicals in the medicine too.

    After all, we would not allow the IRA to escape a murder charge just because they phoned in a warning a little too late would we? Well I wouldn’t.

  11. The driver should not have been attending to his paperwork as he took the turn.

    For me, that should be enough to prove manslaughter. Moving off from traffic lights and making a turn whilst looking at paperwork in your cab, rather than at the road, would seem to be enough to prove willful and reckless negligence. This is exactly the same as the man who shoots his neighbour because he didn’t bother to check that there wasn’t anyone in the way.

    However, the cyclist should not have been trying to take the turn on the inside of a driver who probably could not see her.

    It’s usually a good idea for a cyclist to keep well clear of large lorries, and particularly not to come to a halt next to one. To try to use this as a mitigating factor in a criminal case seems to me to be perilously close to the rapist’s “but she was wearing a short skirt” defence.

  12. @ Mike: it is murder if you kill somebody whilst intending to either kill them or to cause them grevious bodily harm. It is not murder otherwise.

    @ Too Much: there is no concept of ‘felony’ in English law. This makes me sceptical of the rest of your analysis.

  13. John B., now there is no concept of felony now. It was abolished in 1967, but the principle and the term certainly existed in English law. Felony murder has gradually been wound back to less and less serious crimes even in America. It has more or less been abolished here – although notice you include deaths that result from GBH as murder. You could try

    Rethinking English Homicide Law By Barry Mitchell, Andrew Ashworth, page 27

    or

    The origins of American felony murder rules.
    Stanford Law Review, October, 2004 by Guyora Binder

    or of course just read William Blackstone’s books.

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