How the UK Deals with Suicide and Unlawful Killing

Till 1961, suicide was considered illegal in England and Wales. A suicide report was considered a crime and was dealt with accordingly. Those who attempted suicide were also legally prosecuted and dealt with. Since suicide was considered a criminal activity. Hence it was justified under the criminal standard of proof.

However, like other Western Countries, the English also decriminalized suicide and brought legislative reforms for that. Suicide is no longer considered a crime in England. It is dealt with under the civil standard of proof as per the latest orders by the English Supreme Court. So, it is for unlawful killing. This is the newly accepted practice that would apply the civil standard of proof in some cases of suicide and unlawful killing and criminal standards in others. The English Supreme Court has termed it as a “hybrid” approach.

Standard of Proof

The standard of proof is the quantum of evidence that must be presented in a court. The courts have a standard of proof to follow the proceedings. The type of cases presented in a court can be categorized into civil or criminal. Hence, there is a set standard of proof which clarifies a direction for the court to follow.

Civil Standard of Proof

The standard of proof in a civil case depends on proof of balance and probabilities. This means that the accusing party must prove that their case is more probable. The civil standard of proof is the simplest form of the law of evidence. They require minimal explanation or illustration.

A typical civil case involves a dispute between two parties. One of them is the accused and the other one is accusing. The accused party is believed to have broken some rule or law. In such a case if the court decides that they have broken the rule or law. The other party wins the claim or damages made to them.

To decide whether the rule has been broken or not, a court receives all related information, evidence, and proofs. The court however can never be completely sure of what had happened. The decision is only made based on the proofs presented in the court. Hence, the court decides based on probability and the concept of probability is the essential component of proof.

Suicide and Unlawful Killing in the UK

The recent case of James Maughan has brought the jury to decide upon how to effectively deal with suicide and unlawful killing in the UK. The decision was made just recently which stated:

(a) The criminal standard (satisfied beyond a reasonable doubt) to short-form conclusions of Suicide and Unlawful Killing; and

(b) The civil standard (more probable than not) to narrative conclusions, even if they effectively reach the same conclusions.

This means that if the Jury concludes a case as an “accident” or a “natural cause” then it may be dealt with under the Civil Standard of Proof. If the proof or probabilities conclude that the cause of death was “Suicide” or “Unlawful Killing”, the case may be dealt with under the criminal standard of proof. However, if proofs and probabilities conclude that the “deceased committed suicide” then it would only be dealt with under the civil standard of proof.

If you need to deal with such a case and live in Cheadle. Search for lawyers Cheadle and get an experienced solicitor or lawyer to handle your case.


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Written by Phoebe Lambert

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