Involuntary Manslaughter


Involuntary Manslaughter

Involuntary Manslaughter is an unlawful killing where the defendant does NOT have the mens rea for muder.

There are two main ways of commiting involuntary manslaughter. These are:

  • Unlawful act manslaughter-- this is when the defendant commits an unlawful act (a crime) in the course of which the victim dies.
  • Gross negligence manslaugher-- this is when the defendant owes some form of duty to the victim but the duty is broken and the victim dies, as a result.
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Unlawful Act Manslaughter

The elements of unlawful act manslauughter are:

  • The defendant has commited an unlawful act - crime

The death must be caused by an unlawful act. The unlawful act must be a criminal offence.

R v Lamb Lamb and his friend were playing around with a revolver. They both knew that it was loaded with two bullets but though it would not fire unless one of the bullets was opposite to the barrell. They knew that there was no bullet in this position, but did not realise the cylinder turned so that bullet would be fired. Lamb pointed the gun at his friend and pulled the trigger, killing him. The defendant was not guilty as he did not commit an unlawful act. (the friend did not fear violence).

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Unlawful Act Mansalughter

  • The act must be onjectively dangerous

The unlawful act must be dangerous on an objective test. 

R v Church  it was held that the test was '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.'

From this, it can be seen that the risk need only be of 'some harm'. The harm need not be serious. If a sober and reasonable person realises that the unlawful act might cause some injury, then this part of the test for unlawful act manslaughter is satisfied. It does not matter that the defendant him- or herself did not realise there was any risk of harm to someone else. The defendant can be convited, even though he or she was unaware of the risk of any harm occuring.

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Unlawful Act Mansalughter

  • The unlawful act must cause the death

An important point to note is that if there is an intervening act which breaks the chain of causation, then the defendant cannot be liale for unlawful act manslaughter. For example,

R V Williams and Davis (1992) where the defendants picked up a hitchhiker but he jumped out of the car which was travelling at 30 mph. He hit his head on the road and died. The prosecution alleged that the defendants were about to rob him when he jumped out and their actions amounted to unlawful act manslaughter. However, there was no evidence to support the prosecution allegation.

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Unlawful Act Manslaughter

  • It must be proved that the defendant had the mens rea for the unlawful act- the crime- but it is not necessary for the defendant to realise the act is unlawful or dangerous.

DPP V Newbury and Jones (1976)

The defendants were two teenage boys who pushed a piece of paving stone from a bridge onto a railway line as a train was approaching. The stone hit the train and killed the guard. They were conviconvicted of manslaughter by the HOL questioned whether the defendants could be convicted of unlawful act manslaughter if they did not foresee that his act might cause harm to another.

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Gross Negligence Manslaughter

Gross negligence manslaughter is another way of commiting manslaughter. It is completely different from unlawful act manslaughter. It is commited where the defendant owes the victim a duty of care, but breaches that duty in a very negligent way, causing the death of the victim. It can be commited by an act or an omission, neither of which has to be unlawful.

R V Adomako (1994) D was the hospital anaesthetist for a patient who was having an operation on a detached retina. During the operation, D failed to noice that one of the tubes suppyling oxygen to  the patient had become disconnected. As a result, the patient suffered a heart attack caused by the lack of oxygen and further suffered brain damage and died. D was convited and the conviction was upheld by the HOL which set out the following elements of the offence:

  • The existence of a duty of care by the defendant towards the victim. 
  • An act or omission in breach of that duty
  • Which creates a serious and obvious risk of death
  • and which causes death
  • The whole must amount to gross negligence- conduct so bad in all the circumstances as to be criminal conduct.
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Gross Negligence Manslaughter

  • Duty of Care

There have been a number of cases where it has clearly been established that medical professionals owe a duty of care to their patients. In addition, it has been decided that a duty of care exists in very different situations including:

R v Singh (1999) where D was the landlord of the property in which a faulty gas fire caused the death of the tenants. D owed a duty of care to manage and maintain the property properly.

R v Khan and Khan (1998) where the defendants supplied heroin to V and then left her alone. She died and the defendants conviction for unlawful act manslaughter was quased but the Court of Appeal stated obiter that duty situations could be extended to this type of area.

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Gross Negligence Manslaughter

  • Breach of Duty 

Once a duty of care has been shown to exist, it must be proved that the defendant was in breach of that duty of care and that this breach caused the death of the victim.

Whether there is a breach of duty is a factual matter for the jury to decide.

Causation is also important; it must be proved that the breach of duty caused the death.

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Gross Negligence Manslaughter

The fact that a defendant has been negligent is not enough to convict him or her of gross negligence manslaughter. The negligence has to be 'gross'. This was first explained in R v Bateman (1925) 

D was a doctor who attended a woman for the birth of her child at her home. During the childbirth, part of the women's uterus came away. D did not send V to hospital for 5 days and she later died. D's conviction was quashed on the basis that he had carried out the normal procedures that any competent doctor would have done. He had not been grossly negligent.

Lord Hewart said : "the facts must be such that, ini 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."

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Gross Negligence Manslaughter

  • Risk of death

For this offence, there must be an obvious risk of death, judged objectively.

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Gross Negligence Manslaughter

  • Mens Rea

The defendant will be judged by their behaviour, rather by there state of mind. There must be an obvious risk of death, but this is judged objectively, so it does not matter that the defendant did not see the risk.

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