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Involuntary Manslaughter: Unlawful Act

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
  • unlawful act manslaughter is also called constructive manslaughter, as liability for a death is constructed from the facts

Actus reus

  • three elements required for actus reus: D must commit an unlawful act, act must be dangerous and cause the death

Unlawful act

  • must be a criminal offence as a civil wrong (tort) is not enough

    Franklin (1883)

    • D took a box from a man's stall on Brighton pier and threw it into the sea, box struck and killed V, a swimmer
    • held a civil wrong not enough to create liability for unlawful act manslaughter

    Lamb (1967)

    • D and V were playing with a revolver, as a joke, D pointed gun and pulled the trigger, killing V
    • held there was no assault (criminal act) because the V shared in the joke and so felt no fear of violence, D found not guilty of manslaughter
  • in many cases the unlawful act is an assault
  • omission cannot not give rise to liability

    Lowe (1973)

    • D guilty of wilfully neglecting his baby son (criminal offence) which lead to his death, D guilty of manslaughter
    • Court of Appeal quashed conviction as wilful neglect was based on an omission so insufficient
    • Phillimore: .. a charge of manslaughter should not be an inevitable consequence, even if the omission is deliberate...

Dangerous act

  • test for dangerous act is an objective one

    Church (1966)

    • Lord Edmund-Davies: .. the unlawful act must be such as all sober and reasonable people would inevitably recognise must subject the other person to, at least, the risk of some harm resulting therefrom, albeit not serious harm...
  • requirement that a reasonable person would have foreseen the harm, not necessarily D
  • risk only needs to be some harm not serious harm
  • It does not matter if V was the person the unlawful act was aimed at

    Larkin (1943)

    • D brandished knife to threaten another, V was intoxicated and fell into the knife, which cut her throat and killed her
    • D’s conviction for manslaughter upheld, as D had committed assault against another and it was a dangerous act
    • Lord Humphries: ..Where the act which a person is engaged in performing is unlawful, then if at the same time it is a dangerous act, that is, an act which is likely to injure another person, and quite inadvertently he causes the death of that other person by that act, then he is guilty of manslaughter...

    Mitchell (1983)

    • D argued with V1 in a queue and pushed him
    • V1 fell into V2 who died from her injuries
  • unlawful act may be aimed at property

    Goodfellow (1986)

    • D deliberately set fire to his council flat in order to be given an alternative, three people died in the fire
    • Court of Appeal upheld D’s conviction for manslaughter
  • the risk of harm must be physical

    Dawson (1985)

    • Ds attempted to rob a petrol station wearing masks and armed, V, the attendant, suffered a heart attack which killed him
    • V suffered from a serious heart condition
    • Ds convictions quashed on appeal, .V’s heart condition should not have been considered, as part of an objective test: .. can only be undertaken upon the basis of the knowledge gained by a sober and reasonable man as though he were present at the scene of and watched the unlawful act being performed...
    • held an emotional disturbance was insufficient to amount to harm
  • if a reasonable person would be aware of V’s frailty and increased risk of physical harm D would be liable

    Watson (1989)

    • D threw a brick through V’s window intending to steal property, V, 87 yr old man, heard the noise and went to investigate
    • D verbally abused V and left, V died 90 minutes later
    • Court of Appeal quashed conviction for manslaughter on a causation issue
    • court noted a reasonable person would have realised the frailty of V therefore it was a dangerous act

Substantial cause of death

  • unlawful act must be substantial cause of death
  • general rules of causation apply to involuntary manslaughter
  • chain of causation must be proved and unbroken

    Corion Auguiste (2004)

    • D threw a firework in a busy, enclosed bus station, V was knocked over in the panic, struck her head and died
    • D’s act was the direct and substantial cause of death, D convicted of unlawful act manslaughter
  • an novus actus interveniens may break chain of causation

    Kennedy (2007)

    • D filled syringe with heroin and gave to V
    • V injected himself and died, D convicted of manslaughter
    • House of Lords overturned conviction, stating V voluntarily injecting himself was an intervening act
  • the unlawful and dangerous act is not required to be the sole cause of death, so long as not a trivial cause

    Shohid (2003)

    • D part of a group who attacked V1 and V2 at a railway station
    • Vs were forced to jump on the tracks, V1 managed to climb back onto platform, V2 was prevented by others and killed by a train
    • Court of Appeal held the original attack to be sufficiently serious to cause the death

    Carey (2006)

    • Ds, started a fight with V, V suffered minor bruises, as she ran away she died from heart disease which was aggravated by the running
    • Ds convicted of unlawful act manslaughter based on affray
    • Ds convictions quashed on appeal, held V was running to get home, not from a serious threat
    • dangerous act was a single punch, which was not the cause of death and a reasonable person would not have foreseen more than trivial harm
  • a series of unlawful acts may be sufficient

    Attorney General’s Reference (no. 4 of 1980) (1982)

    • D pushed V down the stairs, dragged her upstairs by a rope around her neck and cut her throat, then chopped V up and disposed of the body
    • D had committed a series of acts, each unlawful and dangerous but it cannot be shown which particular act was the actual cause of death
    • Court of Appeal held D could be found guilty of manslaughter

Mens rea

  • must be proved D had the required mens rea for the unlawful act

    Newbury and Jones (1976)

    • Ds, teenagers, threw a paving stone from a railway bridge onto a train and killed V, a train guard
    • Ds convicted of manslaughter
    • House of Lords upheld conviction, confirming was not necessary to prove D had known the act was unlawful or dangerous, sufficient to prove D intentionally did an act which was unlawful and dangerous and that caused death

    Le Brun (1991)

    • D hit V, his wife, during an argument outside their house
    • D dragged V inside, accidentally fracturing her skull and V died
    • D convicted of manslaughter
    • Court of Appeal upheld conviction, original act was not the direct cause of death both were part of the same sequence of events, original punch was intentional, so sufficient mens rea
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