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Offence of Manslaughter in England and Wales

by Suleman

            Based on traditions, the legal system in England and Wales can be considered distinct from those followed by the other two countries of the United Kingdom (Institute of Legal Executives 2011, Section “How criminal law is enforced in England and Wales”). This is possibly the reason why in the documentation of the crime and offence statistics by His Majesty’s Home Office, the documentation for England and Wales are separated from Northern Ireland and Scotland. In this analytical paper, we focus on the offence of manslaughter.

Table 1. Select data on crime, figures and

Offence of Manslaughter in England and Wales

Source: Home Office 2010, p. 31

Based on Table 1 which was taken from Table 2.04 of Home Office (2010, p. 31), violators for the offence of manslaughter was 739 in 1997, 750 for fiscal year 1998-99, 766 for 1999-00, 850 for 2000/01, 891 for 2001/02, and 1,047 for 2002/03. According to the statistics in the document, the offence count for manslaughter has been decreasing for the period 1999 to 2002/03.

Beginning 2003/04, however, the trend was reversed. Instead of an increasing offence count for manslaughter, we have instead a generally decreasing victim count. The victim count for manslaughter decreased from 1,047 in 2002/03 to 904 in 2003/04, to 868 in 2004/05, to 764 in 2005/06, and to 758 in 2006/07. The count for manslaughter slightly increased to 774 in 2007/08 but it decreased to 657 in 2008/09 that is way below the count in 2006/07, decreasing further to 615 in 2009/10.

Offence of Manslaughter in England and Wales

The offence for manslaughter decreased by 6% in 2009/10 compared to its level in 2008/09. The count for attempted murder generally followed the trend for manslaughter. The count for “attempted murder” in 2009/10 at 588 is much lower than its count in 1997 in 652, even if the count for “attempted murder” increased by 2% from its count of 576 in 2008/09 to its count of 588 in 2009/10.

As of 2007/08, the offence “threat or conspiracy to murder” remains high because the offence remains in several thousand cases. However, we should note that the offence count for “threat or conspiracy to murder” in 2007/08 level at 9,962 is close to its count in 1997 at 9,340. More important, however, we must note that its count of 9,962 in 2007/08 is about half to far less than half of the offence count in a total of four years or from 2002/03 to 2005/06. The offence count for “threat or conspiracy to murder” in 2007/08 at 9,962 is also way below than its count of 12,822 in 2006/2007.

Further, it is very important to point out that the count for the offence “threat or conspiracy to murder” has been consistently decreasing since 2002/03.  It is also important to emphasize that the consistent decrease in the count has been going on for at least five years. The data appears to suggest that both the offence of manslaughter, the offence of attempted murder, and the offence of “threat or conspiracy to murder” are all on the decline. Meanwhile, the offence count for “possession of weapon” consistently increased from 1998/99 to 2004/05. Beginning 2005/06 until 2007/2008, there is a consistent decrease in the offence count but it does not seem substantial because the offence count was not restored close enough to its count level during and near the period 1998/99.

The figures in Table 1 validate an important point against capital punishment or the death penalty. Although capital punishment has been abolished in England and Wales, the abolition of the death penalty did not present an obstacle for many important crimes or offence to be reduced. According to Radelet and Lacock (2009, p. 490), criminologists have been interested whether capital punishment is really effective in deterring crime or if the absence of death penalty would increase the crime rate and incidence. Table 1 from Home Office (2010) provides an important answer.

As shown by the data and by our discussion of the offence count in manslaughter, “attempted murder”, and “threat or conspiracy to murder”, the absence of a death penalty will not imply an absence of a deterrent to crime. Basically Radelet and Lacock (2009) had merely pointed out that “consensus criminologists say that the death penalty would not add major deterrents” against crime or offence. In contrast, Table 1 provides evidence that death penalty need not be impose to reduce crimes or offence significantly.

Elgar and Aitken (2010, p. 1) have pointed out that various theories indicated a strong link between income inequality and violence. Thus, the data of Table 1 can also be interpreted as a possible indication that income distribution may have improved in the United Kingdom. This may one source why some of the crime rates have been decreasing (unfortunately, the ongoing London riots may not be consisted with the picture suggested in Table 1). Because of this, it may useful to explore and assess whether  the improving figures or reduction of crime rates/count related to killings and murder are somehow suggesting an improving quality of life. Of course, this may not be the case but it is a point that must studied in the interest of advancing or refining theory.  

Broidy et al. (2006, p. 155) have pointed out that some crimes are linked. This appears to be true in our in Table 1 which is a set of excerpts from Home Office 2010 data set. In the data set, for instance, there seems to be correlation among the three crimes: manslaughter, “attempted murder”, and “threat or conspiracy to murder.” Unfortunately, the original table from which Table 1 came from does not report the data for suicide. It should have been a more interesting presentation because Bills and Li (2005, p. 837) revealed that their study has indicated that although the correlation between homicide and suicide for 65 localities has been weak and statistically insignificant based on their studies, homicide and suicide rates are positively and significantly associated in European countries, but negatively and significantly correlated in the Asia-Pacific region. Bills and Li are (2005, p. 837) even concluded that suicide and homicide are correlated when data are disaggregated according to regions.

It useful to point out that despite the relatively high offence count related to possession of weapons, manslaughter and attempted murder counts have decreased. Thus, Table 1 also advance a counterintuitive suggestion: the availability of weapons in society does not necessarily lead to more crimes or offence.  Based on Allgulander and Nilsson (2000, p. 244), another possible way to interpret Table 1 is that quality of life in England and Wales may have improved such that head injuries are addressed. Based on the study of Allgulander and Nillson (2000, p. 244), head injuries can promote risky behaviour such those who suffered head injuries can be victims of murder or manslaughter. According to Aggulander and Nilsson (2000, p. 244), the frequent motives for homicide are similar to those found in other cultures: drunken altercation, jealousy and revenge. Further, based on a study of 1,739 homicide victims, Aggulander and Nilsson (2000, p. 245) found that the most frequent diagnoses for the cases were physical abuse and alcohol dependence.

Kim and Pridemore (2005, p. 1377) studied homicide in “transitional Russia” using binomial regression and found that poverty, socioeconomic change, and “family strength” can affect the rate of homicide. In the other side, they stated that they saw little proof that stronger social systems other than the family could reduce the impact of poverty and socio-economic transition on homicide rates. Based on the study of Kim and Pridemore (2005), therefore, it follows that that there may be social variables at work that is keeping the crime or offence count of manslaughter, murder, or threat or conspiracy to murder low or movement to a lower level in England and Wales. Several years after, Pridemore (2007) reinvestigated the role of shift and continuity in the features of victims of murder and suspects during accelerated societal change and concluded that nations experiencing rapid social change can have a significant increase in homicide rates. Again, the basis for his conclusion was his review of Russia’s situation, the same country whose experience Pridemore and Kim reviewed earlier in 2005.

In conclusion, based on the data of Home Office (2010), there are good indications that manslaughter, murder, and conspiracy to commit murder have been decreasing their count in England and Wales. Based on criminology literature and journal that supports criminology literature, the reduction in the crime rates may be reflecting changes that are taking place in British society, changes that may be related to quality of life, distribution of income, and family. The improving figures with regard to crimes related to homicide and murder also suggest that capital punishment need not be imposed to provide a deterrent to crime. Improvements in the quality of life, improving the income distribution, and strengthening the family may suffice to reduce the crime rates related to homicide, manslaughter and murder.

  • Allgulander, C. and Nilsson, B., 2000. Victims of criminal homicide in Sweden: A matched case-control study of health and social risk factors among all 1,739 cases during 1978-1994. American Journal of Psychiatry, 157 (2), 244-247.
  • Bill, C. and Li, G., 2005. Correlating homicide and suicide. International Journal of Epidemiology, 34, 837-845.
  • Broidy, L., Daday, J., Crandall, C., Sklar, D., and Jost, P., 2006. Exploring demographic, structural, and behavioural overlap among homicide offenders and victims. Homicide Studies, 10 (3), 155-180.
  • Elgar, F. and Aitken, N., 2010. Income inequality, trust, and homicide. European Journal of Public Health, 1-6.
  • Home Office, 2010. Crime in England and Wales 2009/10. Home Office Statistical Bulletin (Edited by J. Flatley,, C. Kershaw, K. Smith, R. Chaplin, and D. Moon.  London: Home Office.
  • Institute of Legal Executives, 2011. The legal system of the United Kingdom. Available in: http://www.ilex.org.uk/about_legal_executives/the_uk_legal_system.aspx
  • Kim, S. and Pridemore, W. Poverty, socio-economic change, institutional anomie, and homicide. Soc Sci Q, 86 (S1), 1377-1398.
  • Pridemore, W., 2007. Change and stability in the characteristics of homicide victims, offenders and incidents during rapid social change. British Journal of Criminology, 47 (2), 331-345.
  • Radelet, M. and Lacock, T., 2009. Do executions lower homicide rates?: The views of leading criminologists. The Journal of Criminal Law and Criminology, 99 (2), 489-508.

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