CRIME — Sentence — Manslaughter — Appellant convicted of manslaughter on grounds of diminished responsibility — Whether sentence of life imprisonment appropriate — Whether statutory guidance in murder cases relevant when setting minimum term to be served — Criminal Justice Act 2003, ss 143, 269, Sch 21
The fact that a defendant was convicted of manslaughter on the grounds of diminished responsibility did not preclude a sentence of imprisonment for life. In assessing the seriousness of such an offence with a view to fixing a minimum term, the court could take into account the guidance in Sch 21 of the Criminal Justice Act 2003, subject to the specific element of reduced culpability consequent on diminished responsibility. The Court of Appeal, Criminal Division, so held in sentencing the appellant, Clive Wood, to life imprisonment, with a recommended minimum term of 13 years, for manslaughter on the ground of diminished responsibility arising from alcohol dependency syndrome. The appellant was originally convicted of murder at the Crown Court at Wolverhampton before Mitting J and a jury but, on 20 June 2008, the Court of Appeal quashed that conviction and substituted the manslaughter conviction:  1 WLR 496.
LORD JUDGE CJ, giving the judgment of the court, said that there were two distinct questions for decision. The first question was whether the case required a sentence of imprisonment for life or imprisonment for public protection. Whichever of those orders was appropriate, the second question was the assessment of the minimum term to be served by the appellant before any possibility of his release on parole might arise. That raised questions as to the nature of the link, if any, between the legislative structures introduced by s 269 of the Criminal Justice Act 2003 for the determination of the minimum term in cases of murder, and the assessment of the minimum term where the defendant was convicted of manslaughter by reason of diminished responsibility. S 143(1) of the 2003 Act required the assessment of the seriousness of any offence to address the offender’s culpability and the harm consequent on his actions. However, neither consideration was paramount and they were not exclusive considerations. Death was the consequence of every murder, yet the starting points for the minimal custodial sentences in Sch 21 demonstrated that in murder cases although the result – the death of the victim – was identical, the gravity of each individual offence was not. Accordingly, their Lordships disagreed with the appellant’s submission that the assessment of the seriousness of an offence of manslaughter on the grounds of diminished responsibility must be focused exclusively on the defendant’s culpability. The mere fact that the case was one of manslaughter on the grounds of diminished responsibility did not preclude a sentence of imprisonment for life. In reality that sentence would be rare, usually reserved for particularly grave cases where the defendant’s responsibility for his actions, although diminished, remained high. The striking feature of the present offence was that the victim was killed in the course of a prolonged murderous, unprovoked attack of repeated and utmost ferocity. The appellant’s culpability was diminished, but it was very far from extinguished, and his level of responsibility for his actions merited examination in the light of his immediate activities both before and after the attack. The level of his responsibility was just, but only just sufficiently diminished for the purposes of s 2 of the Homicide Act 1957. A very substantial element of mental responsibility remained. Finally, the risk represented by the appellant had not yet diminished. In the circumstances, the appropriate sentence was a discretionary sentence of imprisonment for life. There was no express statutory link between the guidance in Sch 21 of the 2003 Act and the principles to be applied to sentencing decisions in diminished responsibility manslaughter. Where diminished responsibility was established it served to reduce the defendant’s culpability for his actions when doing the killing, but the remaining circumstances of the homicide were unchanged. Accordingly, there was no logical reason why, subject to the specific element of reduced culpability inherent in diminished responsibility, the assessment of the seriousness of the offence should ignore the guidance. Indeed, the link was plain. As a case of murder, the judge assessed the appellant’s minimum term at 18 years. The minimum term must now be reduced to allow for the level of reduced culpability consequent on diminished responsibility. The minimum term should be fixed at 13 years.
R v Wood (No 2)  EWCA Crim 651;  WLR (D) 125
CA: Lord Judge CJ, Aikens LJ, Mackay, Christopher Clarke, Holroyde JJ: 2 April 2009
Appearances: Malcolm Bishop QC and Osama Daneshyar (assigned by the Registrar of Criminal Appeals) for the appellant; Roger Smith QC (Crown Prosecution Service, Wolverhampton) for the Crown.
Reported by: Jill Sutherland, barrister