Unit 3 - Involuntary Manslaughter

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  • Created by: Georgia
  • Created on: 22-03-16 16:52

Involuntary Manslaughter

IS; an unlawful killing where the defendant does not have the intention to kill or cause grievous bodily harm.

The lack of this intention is what distinguishes involuntary manslaughter with voluntary manslaughter. For voluntary manslaughter the defendant has the intention to kill or cause GBH, but the charge is reduced from murder because the defendant can use one of the special defences to murder.

Involuntary manslaughter covers a wide range of circumstances. At the top end of the range the behaviour of the defendant which caused the death can be highly blameworthy as there was a high risk of causing death or serious injury. At the bottom end of the range the defendant’s behaviour may verge on carelessness, and only be just enough to be considered blameworthy. There have been criticisms that the same offence covers such a wide range of behaviour, and there have been proposals for reform which are considered.

The maximum sentence for involuntary manslaughter is life imprisonment, thus giving the judge discretion to impose any sentence which is suitable for the particular circumstances of the offence. In some cases the judge may even pass a non-custodial sentence.

There are three ways of committing involuntary manslaughter. These are;

  • Unlawful act manslaughter

  • Gross negligence manslaughter

  • Subjective recklessness manslaughter

Unlawful act manslaughter

This is also known as constructive manslaughter because the liability for the death is built up or constructed from the facts that the defendant has done a dangerous unlawful act which caused the death. This makes the defendant liable, even though he did not realise that death or injury might occur. The elements of unlawful act manslaughter are;

  • The defendant must do an unlawful act

  • That act must be dangerous on an objective test

  • The act must cause death

  • The defendant must have the required mens rea for the unlawful act

Unlawful act

The death must be caused by an unlawful act which must be a criminal offence. A civil wrong is not enough. Franklin (1883) the defendant threw a large box into the sea from the West Pier at Brighton. The box hit and killed a swimmer. It was held that a civil wrong was not enough to create liability for unlawful act manslaughter. Another case illustrating that there must be a criminal unlawful act is Lamb (1967). Lamb and his friend were fooling around with a revolver. They both knew it was loaded with two bullets. Lamb pointed the gun at his fiend and pulled the trigger, killing him. It was held that the defendant had not done an unlawful act. The pointing of the gun at the friend was not an assault as the friend did not fear any violence.

In many cases the unlawful act will be some kind of assault, but any criminal offence can form the unlawful act, provided it involves an act which is dangerous in the sense that it is likely to cause some injury. Examples of the offences which have led to a finding of


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