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Criminal | Offences Against The Person

Involuntary Manslaughter: Gross Negligence

Revision Note | A Level

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  • involuntary manslaughter is an unlawful killing where D does not have the intention to kill or cause serious bodily harm
  • sentence is discretionary, maximum sentence is life imprisonment
  • gross negligence manslaughter is when a person dies as a result of the negligence of another

Actus reus

  • degree of negligence must be sufficiently serious as to make D criminally liable for the death

    Adomako (1994)

    • D, an anaesthetist, was in charge of V during an eye operation,an oxygen pipe disconnected and caused V to suffer a heart attack and die
    • experts testified D’s failure to notice the disconnection was abysmal , D convicted of gross negligence manslaughter
    • House of Lords upheld conviction, clarified elements required for gross negligence manslaughter:
      (1) existence of a duty of care
      (2) breach of that duty of care which causes death
      (3) gross negligence which jury considers justifies criminal liability
      (4) gross negligence was a substantial cause of the death of V

Duty of care

  • D’s duty of care to V must be established
  • Lord Mackay said ordinary principles of negligence should apply when determining existence of duty of care existed and breach (Adomako (1994))
  • duty of care defined in civil case law

    Donoghue v Stevenson (1932)

    • C went to cafe with a friend who bought her a ginger beer, bottle was opaque, after drinking some C found a snail in bottle, C became ill
    • under contract she could not sue, C argued manufacturer owed a duty of care
    • House of Lords set out a test for when a duty of care owed
    • Lord Atkin: .. You must take care to avoid acts or omissions which you can reasonably foresee would be likely to injure your neighbour... Who then, in law, is my neighbour? Persons who are so closely and directly affected by my act that I ought reasonably to have them in my contemplation as being affected when I am directing my mind to the acts or omissions in question...
  • civil test wider than duty situations criminal law recognises
  • liability can be imposed for some omissions
  • through duty voluntarily taken on

    Stone and Dobinson (1977)

    • Ds allowed V, a relative, to live with them
    • V became ill, unable to care for herself and died
    • Ds assumed some responsibility so duty of care towards V imposed
    • breached by failing to care for her or summon help
    • Ds convicted of manslaughter
  • through contractual terms

    Litchfield (1998)

    • D, owner and master of a ship which crashed and three crew members died
    • D owed the crew a duty of care, through contract
    • breached by steering unsafe course and relying on failing engines
    • D guilty of gross negligence manslaughter

    Singh (1999)

    • D, a landlord, of a house where V, the tenant, died of carbon monoxide poisoning, caused by gas boiler
    • D owed V a duty of care through tenancy agreement
    • breached as D had sufficient information about dangers of defective gas boiler and took no action
    • D guilty of gross negligence manslaughter
  • through complicity in a crime

    Wacker (2002)

    • D, a driver, 58 Vs died of suffocation in his lorry
    • D involved in criminal conspiracy to bring illegal immigrants into UK, lorry was airtight, with a vent that could be opened for air, D closed vent in attempt to avoid detection
    • D convicted of gross negligence manslaughter
    • D argued owed no duty of care to Vs as they were carrying out a joint unlawful activity
    • Court of Appeal rejected argument and excluded this aspect of civil rules as being inappropriate in criminal context
  • whether duty arises may partly determined by public policy, judge must decide if there is evidence capable of establishing a duty, jury must then decide if duty exists

    Willoughby (2005)

    • D, was in debt, arranged for V to help set fire to his pub to claim on insurance
    • when setting fire to pub, part collapsed on V and he died
    • D convicted of gross negligence manslaughter, Court of Appeal upheld conviction, confirming Wacker (2002)
    • commented on public policy and role of judge and jury
  • through life threatening state of affairs

    Evans (2009)

    • D failed to summon help for V, who overdosed on heroin and died
    • D was V's sister, supplied the heroin which V had injected, both were addicts, D put V to bed, hoping that she would recover
    • conviction for manslaughter was upheld, duty arose when D created or contributed to state of affairs that D knew, or ought reasonably to have known, had become life threatening, duty to take reasonable steps to save the life

Gross negligence

  • fact D is negligent is not sufficient to convict, negligence must be gross

    Bateman (1925)

    • D, the doctor in charge when V died giving birth
    • Lord Hewart: .. in order to establish criminal liability the facts must be such that, in the opinion of the jury, the negligence of the accused went beyond a mere matter of compensation between subjects and showed such disregard for the life and safety of others as to amount to a crime against the State and conduct deserving punishment...

    Andrews (1937)

    • D attempted to pass another car by driving on the offside of the road and killed V, a pedestrian
    • Lord Atkin: .. a very high degree of negligence is required to be proved before the felony is established...

    Adomako (1994)

    • Lord Mackay: .. The jury will have to consider whether the extent to which the defendant's conduct departed from the proper standard of care incumbent upon him, involving as it must have done a risk of death to the patient, was such that it should be judged criminal...
  • for juries to decide, taking into to account the evidence, whether breach of duty was serious enough to amount to gross negligence
  • this has lead to inconsistency in decisions

    Finlay (2001)

    • D, a scout leader, took a group to Snowdon and V, a 10 yr old, fell and died
    • evidence showed safety procedures not fully adhered to
    • jury found insufficient disregard for life to amount to gross negligence, D acquitted

    Edwards (2001)

    • Ds allowed Vs, their 7 yr old daughter and a friend, to play near a railway line, Vs killed by train
    • jury found Ds guilty of gross negligence manslaughter

Risk of death

  • Adomako (1994), a risk of death caused by D’s conduct was referred to in judgement by Lord Mackay
  • lack of clarity on this point, although logical such a test is applied
  • been suggested sufficient for there to be a risk to the health and welfare of V (Stone and Dobinson (1977))
  • previously test was disregard for the life and safety of others (Bateman (1925))
  • not so uncertain as to breach of Article 7 of European Convention Human Rights (ECHR)

    Misra and Srivastava (2004)

    • Ds, doctors who had been convicted of gross negligence manslaughter in relation to the deaths of patients
    • on appeal, they argued that the test was too unclear, so breached Article 7 of the ECHR
    • Court of Appeal held the elements of gross negligence manslaughter made clear in Adomako (1994) therefore, no breach of Article 7

Mens rea

  • involuntary manslaughter is based on the fact D does not have the intention to kill or cause serious harm
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