Lawyers are famous for disagreement, but in legal circles one fairly tight consensus is that the law of murder is in a mess. The same feeling appears to exist in judicial and academic circles where words such as chaotic and impenetrable echo down corridors. The offence is both emblematic and problematic the wider messages it sends out about how offenders are dealt with sometimes being the most important part. Politicians tread warily and when they find the nerve to act tend to get it wrong, partly from a lack of comprehension but mainly trying to accommodate what they see as public opinion. They know that murder and other killings evoke strong feelings and attract a punitive urge. Or do they? We will come to that.