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in the UK for over four decades
Any lawyer can claim to have experience of serious cases. In fact, most lawyers will have had at least some contact with a murder case through the duty solicitor scheme.
But what is needed to prepare a murder case effectively? When someone can get the ultimate sentence of life imprisonment, what level of service should they expect from their lawyer? Mary Monson defended her first murder case in 1982, and we have acted in dozens of high profile murder cases since then. A case study is included below.
Our client was the late Damien Noonan, Hacienda Club doorman, who was accused of the murder of alleged gangster “White Tony” Johnson in February 1991. This killing was allegedly over drugs in the Manchester club scene.
This case involved alibi evidence, and required extensive work tracing and interviewing potential witnesses. Noonan was a controversial individual, who attracted much unwanted publicity. Securing a fair trial was a difficult task.
Murder is committed when a person of “sound mind” unlawfully kills another, with the intention to either kill or cause “grievous bodily harm” (see section on GBH on the left of this screen).
This offence must be tried at a Crown Court before a judge and jury. After one appearance before a Magistrates Court, the case will be sent directly to the Crown Court.
Murder carries a mandatory life sentence for an adult. People convicted under the age of 18 are detained “at Her Majesty’s pleasure”. This in effect means that the length of the sentence in real terms, or ‘the tariff’, will vary depending on individual circumstances. These can include the way in which the offence was committed and whether or not the defendant has any previous convictions.
When a person kills someone but intends only to hurt them, or to exert some force on them, this is called manslaughter, and is generally considered to be a much less serious offence. With murder, the intention of the attacker has to be to either commit really serious harm or to kill. With manslaughter, although the end result is a death, the attacker must only be intending to do some harm, or being negligent or reckless as to whether some harm would be involved.
To be guilty of attempted murder, a person must have the intention to kill another person, and have done something “more than merely preparatory” to commit the killing. This may mean that knocking on someone’s door with a kitchen knife, while intending to kill them could be considered attempted murder. Physically stabbing at someone with a knife, but not succeeding is more likely to be considered attempted murder. But in most cases, attempted murder usually has to involve an attempt so serious that death could well have followed from the actions of the defendant.
Among other things, a jury will look at the following factors in deciding whether someone is guilty of attempted murder:
General defences which also apply to murder include self-defence and defence of another, but certain defences, such as provocation, only apply to murder. For more information on these defences click the section ‘Brief Guide to Criminal Law’ on the left hand toolbar.
Unlike many other types of offence, the circumstances of murder can be so varied that no single key approach “works”. Forensic evidence can often be of great importance, as well as a knowledge of the types of weapon involved. Specialist experts in forensic pathology, DNA, Ballistics, Fingerprints, or even CCTV enhancement may be required. All of the above may be relevant, or maybe only one or two aspects, but the most important element of a murder defence is to aggressively pursue every line of enquiry that might assist the client’s case, be it scientific, factual, or even be a “long shot”. Where there is a potential life sentence in the offing for a guilty verdict, there are no long shots, only possibilities which must be followed up.
The client must also have an opportunity to be guided page by page by his or her solicitor through every piece of prosecution evidence against him or her. The element of chance cannot be taken out of a murder trial, but a client should go into the trial knowing the detail of the prosecution case, and having a clear idea of his or her defence. The barristers must be chosen according to the particular client and according to the nature of the case. A QC (the highest grade of barrister) will usually be required as well as an experienced less senior barrister. Barristers should be chosen not just on the basis of recommendation, but on the basis of direct experience of their work and a knowledge of their track record. We will not trust our clients’ liberty with barristers who we do not know to be excellent, and have used some of the country’s top QCs in major trials.
Whilst we have attempted to give an impression of how we believe a murder case should be run, there is only so much that can be explained on a website. We are happy to speak with anyone who is charged with murder, or has a family member facing trial. If you would like any information or assistance, we are glad to help.
If you would like to speak to one of our criminal solicitors regarding murder or manslaughter, please contact us on freephone 0808 155 4870 and ask to speak to a criminal defence lawyer in our London, Manchester, Salford or Birmingham offices.
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