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Murder is one of the most prominent crimes in the legal calendar, and it has provided a recurrent reference point for literature, cinema, television, photography, the arts and the humanities more generally. Using examples from legal and public culture, this subject examines in depth the ways in which we make sense of law, crime and killing.
The subject begins with the doctrinal history of murder and allied crimes in order to present the central concepts of the law of homicide and of this subject. It then moves to consider the processes of proof and punishment of murder, before turning to an in-depth study of a variety of specific legal and cultural forms of murder (such as serial killing, mass murder, and family violence).
The overall themes of the subject are three: encounters between legal and cultural responses to the crime of murder; the nature of the difficulties that murder presents for criminal law and public culture; narratives of community, memory and responsibility constructed by responses to murder and its aftermath.
These themes will be explored through an in depth treatment of the complex problems and forms of knowledge from a range of illustrative topics. In any given year, topics will be chosen from amongst the following:
- The public culture of murder, law and homicide;
- History and the changing patterns of homicide law;
- Multiple murder and atrocity, including examples from the law and public culture of ‘mass murder’, ‘serial killing’, terrorism, and genocide;
- Literary representations of unlawful murder;
- Defences such as provocation, insanity, diminished responsibility;
- Family violence and conjugal homicide;
- Punishment, sentencing and homicide;
- Proof of murder, and determinations of life and death;
- Murder, euthanasia, and medico-legal problems in criminal law;
- Homicide and hate crimes;
- Corporate killings and workplace deaths (including environmental disasters); and
- Law reform of homicide in comparative perspective.
Examples will be drawn from legal texts and judgments, and from literature, film, and the arts. In this way, the subject compares and integrates the responses of criminal law and public culture in making sense of law, crime and killing.
Intended learning outcomes
A student who has successfully completed this subject should have an advanced understanding of the law of murder, as well as be able to critically analyse, engage with, and evaluate to a high standard the forms of representation, bodies of knowledge and practices that compose this specialised area of legal study. This specifically includes an expert understanding, analysis and evaluation of:
- A variety of representations of murder in criminal law and public culture, together with the complex concepts, knowledge-sets and values used in understanding them;
- The integration of and disjunctions between various contemporary and historical representations of murder;
- The limits and difficulties of the concepts and categories of the law of murder and allied offences, with specific reference to their various histories;
- The institutionalised legal regimes for responding to the crime of murder, with specific reference to pre-trial, trial and punishment processes; as well as their relation to arrangements in other legal fields (eg coroners courts, medico-legal approaches);
- The distinctive shape of a variety of social genres and legal forms of murder, such as conjugal homicide, hate crime, mass murder;
- The complex interactions between the responses to murder by criminal law and in public culture; and
- Interdisciplinary approaches to law, and specifically the criminal law of murder.
In addition, a student who has completed the subject will have obtained:
- A rich and nuanced appreciation of the complexity and variety of the current scholarship on murder, and its contribution to the current criminal law and public culture;
- A specialised and integrated knowledge of crime and the law of murder, and its intersections with other legal areas as well as public culture;
- In-depth knowledge of and research on at least one specific response to the crime of murder;
- The ability to analyse complex problems of criminal law from a variety of perspectives, as well as the capacity to exhibit a well developed judgment on the worth of those perspectives for scholarly understanding; and
- The capacity to independently conduct further specialised research in criminal law, whether in higher education or in professional practice.
On completion of the subject, students should have developed and demonstrated their skills in the following areas:
- Specialist interdisciplinary knowledge of the representation of murder in law and public culture;
- Investigation, analysis and evaluation of the institutional, representational, and ethical issues that are engaged by murder;
- Ability to respond to and effectively communicate – in both oral and written forms - cogent and nuanced arguments concerning the variety of ways in which law and culture intersect in particular substantive responses to murder;
- Conducting in-depth research independently and at a high level, including the ability to generate complex ideas and form well-developed judgments as to the worth of those ideas for thinking about and understanding the law and culture of murder;
- Carrying out interdisciplinary analysis based on jurisprudence and the humanities of a particular problem or topic that is germane to the legal and cultural understanding of murder;
- Writing up research which presents an extended argument that is informed by and integrates current scholarship in criminal law and the humanities; and
- Exercise professional judgment in responding to the questions of law raised by the legal and culture life of murder.
Last updated: 2 December 2019