In order for someone to be the victim of a murder, the law must first classify the victim as a human being. This raises the question at which point something becomes a human beings for legal purposes.
It has been clearly acknowledged by the courts that the time at which someone becomes a human being for the purposes of the criminal law is not related to biological facts. Instead, it is a way of clearly denoting the point at which the criminal law will step in to classify the killing of that person as murder. The judges have stated that the lines which they have drawn are largely based on societal conventions and expectations as to when someone becomes a human being.
This point is particularly important for situations involving a foetus, which is what the following cases will deal with.
AGs Reference (No.3 of 1994)
In obiter discussion, the House of Lords concluded that destroying a foetus whilst in the mother’s womb does not constitute murder. This is because, regardless of biological facts, a foetus is not classified by the law as a human being which can be murdered, so the actus reus of murder cannot be committed.
R v Poulton (1832)
Whilst there is no universally recognised test for what amounts to a foetus sustaining an existence independent of its mother, R v Poulton suggests a test of independent respiration.