Murder: What does the law say about unlawful killings?

The legal definition of Murder 

Murder is a common law offence and there is no legal definition in statute, however the following requirements have been established through case law to identify murder as a criminal offence.

For a person to have committed a murder in the eyes of the law they must satisfy all the below requirements: (The Actus Reus of murder)

  1. The victim of the killing must have been a ‘person in being’ , this means a murder will only occur if a person is unlawfully killed and that the victim is a person who is independent from their mother (not still in the womb)
  2. The victim must have died, If a person attempts to unlawfully kill a person but they survive the attack that person would most likely be guilty of attempted murder and not actual murder itself.
  3. The victim’s death must have been caused by the act (possible failure to act) of the defendant. If a person dies of a disease, then this is not murder.

To summaries, the victim must be a person, who has died as a result of the defendants actions.

For a person to be guilty of murder they must also have the intention to kill or cause grievous bodily harm (GBH) (This is the Mens Rea of Murder)

The punishment for murder

S1(1) Murder (Abolition of Death Penalty) Act 1965:

‘No person shall suffer death for murder, and a person guilty of murder shall… be sentenced to imprisonment for life’. 
  • There is a mandatory punishment for murder, a mandatory sentence of life imprisonment.
  • Even though every person that is found guilty of murder will be given a life sentence, the actual amount of years a life sentence represents will be up to the complete discretion of the court.

Unlock this article now!


For more information on:

  • The Criminal Justice Act 2003
  • Category 1
  • Category 2
  • Category 3
  • The Victim must have been a ‘person in being’ 
  • The Victim must have died