There are two basic types of manslaughter, usually referred to as ‘voluntary’ and ‘involuntary’ manslaughter. In the case of involuntary manslaughter, the accused lacks malice aforethought, the mens rea, for murder. Voluntary manslaughter is different; it arises in cases where both the actus reus and mens rea of murder exist, but an additional factor is present which operates as a partial defence to murder, reducing it to manslaughter. There are three partial defences: diminished responsibility, loss of control and suicide pact. These partial defences fall between ordinary defences (such as self-defence), which exonerate completely, and mitigating factors which make no difference to criminal liability (legal guilt or innocence) but which can be taken into account by the judge at the sentencing stage. They are needed in the case of murder because murder is an offence with a mandatory sentence of life imprisonment, and therefore no sentencing discretion is available to the judge. It is not only the question of sentence which is important; voluntary manslaughter also removes the stigma of a conviction of murder.
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