A Bodyless Murder?

A celebrity was dismembered in a horrific homicide. But even if the body cannot be recovered, the perpetrators could still be convicted.

A suspected homicide case had caused quite a stir when it surfaced that the celebrity victim was dismembered, presumably in an attempt to dispose of the body and destroy the evidence.

While the criminal investigation is ongoing, we must remember that in a homicide case, the failure to recover the deceased’s body does not prevent the perpetrator’s conviction. This happened in 2011 in HKSAR v Chan Man Sum Ivan (HCCC 428/2014).

And this is for a simple reason that in law, we might not have direct evidence as to what has happened as a matter of fact. We often resort to using circumstantial evidence and the power of logical deduction.

“How often have I said to you that when you have eliminated the impossible, whatever remains, however improbable, must be the truth?”

Sherlock Holmes in The Sign of Four

This means that the jury, as fact finders, can find someone guilty under the law on the basis of entirely circumstantial evidence. This may include CCTV at other locations, records of movement such as the octopus card, and previous dealings and relationships between the parties.

In fact, our jury has to deal with the inferences from circumstantial evidence. The Specimen Directions in Jury Trials illustrated the power of such evidence with a simple explanation in Volume 1:

"Sometimes a jury is asked to find some fact proved by direct evidence. For example, if there is reliable evidence from a witness who actually saw a defendant commit a crime; if there is a video recording of the incident which plainly demonstrates his guilt; or if there is reliable evidence of the defendant himself having admitted it, these would all be good examples of direct evidence against him.
On the other hand it is often the case that direct evidence of a crime is not available, and the prosecution relies upon circumstantial evidence to prove guilt. That simply means that the prosecution is relying upon evidence of various circumstances relating to the crime and the defendant which they say when taken together will lead to the sure conclusion that it was the defendant who committed the crime"

The lesson here is clear. The absence of direct evidence should not be mistaken to mean the absence of evidence. For the details and development of  Chan Man Sum Ivan, see A Bodyless Murder? (Cont’d).

A Bodyless Murder?
Gordon Chan avatar
Gordon Chan, Esq

Barrister of the High Court of Hong Kong. Member of the Bar Association's Committee on Criminal Law and Procedure. Specialised in medical, technology and criminal law.

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