K is for Killing

Laws against killing reach back to at least the Exodus with Ex 20:13 being variously translated as 'thou shalt not kill' or 'thou shalt not murder'. Whilst the precise scope of this prohibition has been debated ever since, pretty much all jurisdictions have placed limitations on the circumstances in which it is permittable for life to be taken and the consequences of acting outside these circumstances.

The first aspects of 'killing' is that of murder. This was governed by common law apparently without statutory intervention until the Homicide Act 1957 (5&6 Eliz 2 c11). This led to the abolition of 'constructive malice' or the need for the murder to have been premeditated. However rather than clarify matters this law led to more confusion and it was tidied up in the Criminal Law Act 1967. The Homicide Act 1957 outlined reasons for diminished responsibility and also covered suicide pacts. It also reformed liability to the death penalty with the introduction of capital murder. This section was replaced as capital punishment was abolished for murder in 1969. Cases were heard in Crown courts and are widely reported.

The second aspect of 'killing' is that of abortion. This was first criminalised in the Offences Against the Person Act 1861 with potential penalties of imprisonment from three months upwards. The Infant Life Preservation Act 1929 permitted abortion in good faith with the intent of saving the mother's life - the doctor was to be 'satisfied that the continuance of the pregnancy was liable to endanger the health of the expectant mother'. It also defined the age of viability of the fetes as 28/40. This remained the situation until the Abortion Act 1967 which legalised abortion under 28/40 under certain circumstances on the agreement of two doctors. The Human Fertilisation and Embryology Act reduced the limit for abortion to 24/40 unless the opinion of two doctors is that the child would be seriously handicapped by physical or mental abnormalities. Whilst records relating to individual abortions would be unusual in one-place studies, campaigns for or against the practice may have taken place. Whilst Rossendale does not have a termination of pregnancy clinic, protests against the practice organised by one of the local churches have certainly occurred.

The third aspect of killing to be considered is killing oneself or suicide. It is thought to have been illegal since the 13th century and until 1823 and the Burial of Suicide Act there was apparently a legal requirement for suicide victims to be buried at crossroads. The Suicide Act 1961 meant that suicide ceased to be a criminal offence but it became an offence to assist in one. The burial of suicide victims in unconsecrated ground was never a legal requirement. Only one of the four known unconsecrated burials in Rossendale is thought to be that of a suicide victim, that of James Ormerod in Patrick Crescent.