Unlawful Act Manslaughter

Involuntary Manslaughter

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Involuntary Manslaughter: Unlawful Act Manslaughte

  • Also known as "Constructive Manslaughter" 
  • D must have actively done something to contribute to V's death 
  • D's act must be both an "unlawful criminal offence" (not a tort) and "dangerous" 
  • An omission is not sufficient to make D liable for Constructive Manslaughter
  • D may be guilty even if he did not realise that death or injury may occur as a result of his actions. To this extent, the need not be any foresight or consequences. 
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Elements of Constructive Manslaughter

  • D must commit an "unlawful act" or criminal offence. A civil wrong (tort) or omission is not sufficient to make D liable for Constructive Manslaughter. 
  • The act must be dangerous (on an objective test) 
  • The act must cause V's death 
  • D must have the required mens rea for the unlwaful act
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Actus Reus

Unlawful Act

The death must be caused by an unlawful act: 

Lamb (1967) D and V were fooling around with a revolver. Neither thought the gun would fire. D pointed gun at V. Gun went off and killed V. 

V's death must be caused by an unlawful act. D's act was not unlawful: not assault as V was not put in fear. 

An omission is not enough 

Lowe (1973) 

D neglected his baby son 

D convicted of willful neglect and manslaughter of his son. Court of Appeal overturned conviction as willful neglect involves an omission, and an omission is not sufficient to make D liable for the actus reus of Constructive Manslaughter

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Elements of Constructive Manslaughter

  • D must commit an "unlawful act" or criminal offence. A civil wrong (tort) or omission is not sufficient to make D liable for Constructive Manslaughter. 
  • The act must be dangerous (on an objective test) 
  • The act must cause V's death 
  • D must have the required mens rea for the unlwaful act
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Actus Reus

Unlawful Act

The death must be caused by an unlawful act: 

Lamb (1967) D and V were fooling around with a revolver. Neither thought the gun would fire. D pointed gun at V. Gun went off and killed V. 

V's death must be caused by an unlawful act. D's act was not unlawful: not assault as V was not put in fear. 

An omission is not enough 

Lowe (1973) 

D neglected his baby son 

D convicted of willful neglect and manslaughter of his son. Court of Appeal overturned conviction as willful neglect involves an omission, and an omission is not sufficient to make D liable for the actus reus of Constructive Manslaughter

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Unlawful Act

Most cases of Constructive Manslaughter arise from assault, but not all: 

Goodfellow (1986) - arson 

D set fire to his flat so the council would give him a new one. Three people died in the fire. 

Newbury & Jones (1976) - Criminal Damage

Ds were two teenage boys who pushed a concrete slab off a bridge onto a railway line and killed a guard. 

Watson (1989) - Burglary 

D broke into V's house. The 87 year-old occupier came to see what the disturbance was. D attacked V, and V died of a heart attack moments later.

The act does not have to be directed at a person 

 

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Unlawful Act

A Civil wrong (tort) is not sufficient: 

Franklin (1883) 

D threw a large box into the sea. V was hit by the box and died. 

A civil wrong is not enough to create liability for Constructive Manslaughter

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Dangerous Act

Objective Test: The unlawful act must be found dangerous on an objective test 

"would a sober and reasonable person realise that the act could cause some harm to a person, albeit not serious harm?" 

Established in Church (1965) 

D knocked a prostitute unconscious. Believing she was dead he threw he "body" into a river where she drowned and died. 

The unlawful act must be one that a sober and reasonable person would recognise as putting V at risk of some harm. 

 

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Dangerous Act

Some harm, not serious harm

Larkin (1943) 

D threatened another man with a razor. Man's mistress intervened, drunk, and fell on the razor and slashed her throat. 

If a reasonable man realises that there is a risk of some harm, the dangerousness test is satisfied. 

This case demonstrates that transferred malice applies in Constructive Manslaughter. 

 

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Dangerous Act

Final Victim 

Mitchell (1983) 

Man pushed in front of D in queue. D pushed the man, who fell into V, an 89 year-old woman, who died from her injuries. 

The dangerous act need not be aimed at the final victim. 

Property 

Act does not need to be aimed at a person. An act aimed at property can still be that such a sober and reasonable person would realise a risk of some harm. 

Goodfellow (1986) 

The elements of Constructive Manslaughter can still be present in offences against property.

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Dangerous Act

There must be some risk of physical harm, mere fear is not enough

Dawson (1985) 

3 Ds tried to rob a petrol station, armed with pickaxe handles. Petrol station attendant (who appeared young and fit) sounded alarm and robbers fled. V, who suffered from a serious heart condition, died from a heart attack 1 1/2 hours later. 

The act must be one that is likely to cause some harm in the eyes of a reasonable and sober person. 

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However, where a reasonable person would be aware of V's frailty and risk of harm to him/her the D will be liable for constructive manslaughter. 

Watson (1989) 

Ds threw a brick through a window of a house to gain entry. The 87-year old occupier came to see what

the disturbance was. Ds attacked V and left him injured, where he died of a heart attack moments later.

 

The key discriminator between these two cases is in Dawson - the victim was aged 60, substantially younger than that

in Watson. Arguably, a reasonable man would not think that frightening a man of 60 would normally be expected to

cause harm and so Dawson was not a dangerous act. This possibly contradicts the judgement of Blaue (1975) which

held that a defendant must take their victim “as they find them.”

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