Infanticide and the Criminal Law


What is meant by Infanticide?

Under the criminal law of England and Wales the partial defence of infanticide provides a defence for both murder and manslaughter.

The fact that the defence is only a partial defence means that someone convicted of infanticide will not be convicted of the initial charge of either murder or manslaughter but they will still face some form of criminal prosecution.

The Infanticide Act 1938

The defence is framed in the Infanticide Act 1938 which provides as follows:

  • Where a woman by any willful act or omission causes the death of her child being a child under the age of 12 months, but at the time of her act or omission the balance of her mind was disturbed by reason of her not having fully recovered from the effect of giving birth to the child. Notwithstanding that the circumstances were such that but for this Act the offence would have amounted to murder or manslaughter will be convicted of manslaughter.

Accordingly the following elements must be apparent for the partial defence of infanticide:

  • The death was caused by a willful act or omission

  • The baby was less than twelve months old

  • The balance of her mind was disturbed due to having given birth to the child – mental disorders such as post-natal depression will fall within this category

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For more information on:

  • Burden of proof on prosecution
  • Beyond a reasonable doubt
  • What will be the punishment for a mother convicted of infanticide?
  • Has the Coroners and Justice Act 2009 made any amendment to the law concerning infanticide?
  • Problems with the law of infanticide
  • Infanticide versus diminished responsibility