Mercy Killing

Date01 October 2015
AuthorAmanda Clough
Publication Date01 October 2015
Mercy Killing:
Three’s A Crowd?
Amanda Clough
PhD student, Northumbria University, UK
A defendant who has committed a so called ‘mercy killing’, meaning that they killed a loved one
to end their suffering from some kind of painful or terminal illness or disease, has no direct
route to a manslaughter conviction. It is a difficult situation for the courts, although such
actions are acknowledged as a mitigating feature at the sentencing stage. This article discusses
the controversial subject, and questions if it may be included within the scope of either
diminished responsibility or loss of control since the Coroners and Justice Act 2009 came into
Mercy killing, diminished responsibility, murder, manslaughter, loss of control
The partial defence of loss of self-control, contained within the Coroners and Justice Act 2009, replaced
provocation as an emotion-based defence which operates to reduce murder to manslaughter. It was
essentially enacted to encompass two types of cases. First, those of excessive force self-defence, where
a defendant acted from a fear of serious violence, to provide a partial defence route for situations such as
battered women who kill their abuser. Secondly, those of imperfect angry retributive actions where a
defendant had an overwhelming sense of being wronged. The new partial defence’s remit was to end
the doctrine of the retaliatory defence of provocation by replacing it with a defence which acknowledged
a broader spectrum of emotions. This article questions why the emotion-based situation of compassio-
nate killers was not included within this revamp of a tired and out-dated defence, and provides a pathway
to include cases of mercy killing and compassionate killings within the ambit of the loss of control partial
defence. In this article, mercy killing refers to cases where a family member or partner has killed a loved
one to end their pain and suffering. This includes both cases which involve express consent
or requests
by the victim and those which do not.
Corresponding author:
Amanda Clough, 21 Mitford Street, Fulwell, sunderland, SR6 8HT, UK.
1. Cocker [1989] Crim LR 740.
2. Such as Inglis [2010] EWCA Crim 2637.
The Journal of Criminal Law
2015, Vol. 79(5) 358–372
ªThe Author(s) 2015
Reprints and permissions:
DOI: 10.1177/0022018315608031

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