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The term involuntary manslaughter covers a verity of situations where death has occurred as a result
of the conduct of the accused and in circumstances where it has been deemed appropriate to find
the accused criminally responsible for that death. Involuntary manslaughter falls into two main
categories: constructive and gross negligence manslaughter.
Defendant will be guilty if he kills by doing an act that is both unlawful and dangerous. In order to
prove involuntary manslaughter and the actus reus of it, three questions need to be answered. (You
should follow this procedure in your exam too)
1) Was the defendants act "unlawful"?
2) Was it "dangerous"?
3) Did it cause "death"?
Unlawful act + dangerous act + death = constructive manslaughter
Actus reus of involuntary (constructive) manslaughter
1. An unlawful act there is no clear definition. You just have to follow the cases and
decide yourself. Two main cases that you could use are:
a) R v Franklin the defendant threw an empty box from a pier into the sea and
accidentally hit a bather, causing death. The judge said that this was not an unlawful act
sufficient for manslaughter.
b) R v Humble a driver became impatient when a car in front of him failed to pull over to
let him pass. He shunted the other car out of his path thereby causing the death of two
people. He was convicted of manslaughter his act was truly unlawful.
Possibly the classic case of constructive manslaughter occurs during a fight when defendant
punches the victim, who falls backwards and bangs his head on the pavement, with fatal
2. Dangerous act the unlawful act must be dangerous. C.A held that an act could be
considered dangerous if there was an objective risk of some harm resulting from it.
Probably the most suitable case here is R v Church. The defendant thought a woman was dead so he
dumped her body in the river. She was in fact alive at the time, but then drowned in the river.
The defendant can also be convicted of manslaughter by an unlawful act even if he did not
foresee his act might cause harm to another. (DPP v Newbury & Jones)
Paul C LAW A2Page 1
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The dangerous and unlawful act need not be aimed at a person - R v Goodfellow. The
defendant set fire to his council house. It was unknown to him that his wife and one of his children
were still in the house and both died.
3. Death the unlawful and dangerous must cause death. It is vital to discuss causation here.
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