Chapter 3
The legal context


3.1Homicide is the killing of a human being by another. Culpable homicide, which is the unlawful killing of a human being by another, is regarded as the most serious kind of criminal conduct. Andrew Ashworth writes that this is because:179

The harm caused by homicide is absolutely irremediable, whereas the harm caused by many other crimes is remediable to a degree. Even in crimes of violence which leave some permanent physical disfigurement or psychological effects, the victim retains his or her life and, therefore, the possibility of further pleasures and achievements, whereas death is final. This finality makes it proper to regard death as the most serious harm that may be inflicted on another person, and to regard the culpable causing of death without justification or excuse as the highest wrong.

3.2There are different forms of culpable homicide, and the law of homicide is complex. This is in part a reflection of the seriousness of the crimes and in part a legacy of the sentencing rules for murder. We discuss these features of homicide throughout this Report and particularly in Part 3.

3.3In this chapter, we introduce the law of homicide and the justice process to which people accused of homicide are subject. We also introduce the homicide cases we have reviewed where victims of family violence have killed abusers. We have identified 24 New Zealand cases in this category over a 15-year period. This is a small sample but some trends are identifiable. We note those trends in the second part of this chapter and consider them in greater depth in Chapter 9.

179Andrew Ashworth and Jeremy Horder Principles of Criminal Law (7th ed, Oxford University Press, Oxford, 2013) at 237.