Murder most foul?

September 14, 2010, 9:52 PM GMT+0

Significant numbers of the British public are in favour of introducing substantial changes to British law regarding murder, our recent survey has revealed. The majority said they would support a US style, two-tier penalty system for the charge of murder, amid calls for its introduction by key figures in the legal profession, while just over half would support the re-introduction of the death penalty for murder.

First and second degree murder

In recent weeks there have been calls on the Government to adopt a penalty system in which offenders can be charged for either ‘first degree’ or ‘second degree’ murder. First degree murder would apply to those found to have had intent to kill, and conviction would carry a compulsory life sentence. Charges of second degree murder, on the other hand, would only apply to those found to have had intent to cause grievous bodily harm, and would only carry a life sentence at the judge’s discretion, thereby allowing for varying levels of culpability. Under the current system, offenders are either convicted of murder or not, and receive an automatic life sentence if found guilty.

When asked, 74 % of the British public said they would support a change to this two-tiered system, with 30% saying they would ‘strongly support’ the move.

‘Too soft’?

In contrast, only 16% claimed they would not support this change in the law (and seven percent were ‘strongly opposed’). Critics of the ‘first’ and ‘second’ degree proposal have suggested that a law that enshrines differing degrees of murder sends out the wrong message to criminals, and that reducing what is still effectively murder to a ‘second degree’ crime is too ‘soft’ a charge.

The two tier system was first proposed in 2006 but discarded by the then Labour Government. More recently, however, the campaign has been revived, especially as Director of Public Prosecutions, Keir Starmer, has spoken out in support of the idea.

An eye for an eye?

And it seems much of the public is in favour of harsher punishments for murderers, as, according to the same poll, 51% would support the reinstatement of the death penalty for murder (which has been outlawed in Britain since 1965), compared to 37% who oppose.

Our results suggest that many Brits feel the current system in place to deal with convictions of murder could benefit from a serious overhaul.

Survey details and full results