Involuntary Manslaughter is defined as ‘an unlawful killing where the Defendant (D) does not have the intention, either direct or oblique, to kill or to cause grievous bodily harm (GBH)’. The actus reus for Involuntary Manslaughter is similar that to Murder, that is, causing the unlawful death of another. There are 3 ways of committing involuntary manslaughter; Unlawful Act, Gross Negligence and Reckless Manslaughter. This essay will seek to measure whether the law on involuntary manslaughter is in serious need of reform or if it does indeed satisfy its purpose.
To begin with, unlawful act manslaughter requires an unlawful act aimed at either a person or property which takes place. In Franklin, a swimmer was killed after D threw a box off a pier, it set the precedent that a tort (civil wrong) is not enough to constitute an unlawful act. An omission does not create liability for unlawful act manslaughter. This was shown in Lowe where the COA quashed the conviction for the defendant as wilful neglect involves failure to act and this is not enough to support a conviction for unlawful act manslaughter. Secondly, the act has to be dangerous on an objective test set out in Church which is: was the unlawful act in question “such as all sober and reasonable people would inevitably recognise must subject the other person to, at least, the risk of some harm”. So the act doesn’t need to be substantially dangerous or even aimed at the victim but only objectively dangerous that it is likely to cause harm. In Larkin, the victim tripped and fell on a razor another man was being threatened with which cut her throat and killed her. The appeal was upheld on the basis that the act of threatening another man with the razor was technical assault and was dangerous as it was likely to injure someone.
Thirdly, unlawful act requires that the act must be the physical and legal cause of death. There can be no break in the chain of causation, on that as a result of D’s action, the victim dies. Any intervening act, such as the victim self-injecting a drug (Dalby) means that D was not responsible regardless of the duty of care they had to V. The case of Kennedy stated that preparing the injection which killed the V is not in itself the cause of death unless D commits the unlawful act of injecting V with it.
Lastly, Unlawful Act Manslaughter states that that Defendant must have the required mens rea for the unlawful act. It is not necessary to prove that D foresaw any harm that could arise from his act, an example of this is Newbury v Jones, where two boys threw a stone from a bridge into the path of a train, killing a guard. Lord Salmon explained that a defendant was guilty of manslaughter if it was proved that he intentionally did an act which was unlawful and dangerous and that act caused death, and that by proving whether the defendant had known that the act in question was unlawful or dangerous was unnecessary.
Gross negligence manslaughter is committed 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 committed by an act or omission, neither of which has to be unlawful. The leading case on gross negligence manslaughter is Adamako, an anaesthetist who failed to notice that the oxygen tube had become disconnected during an operation. Doctors giving evidence at the trial said that a competent anaesthetist would have noticed the disconnection of the tube within 15 seconds and the D’s failure to notice this was abysmal. In Gross Negligence Manslaughter there are 4 sections in the first of which is the existence of a duty of care. Duty of care is mainly based on the ‘neighbour principle’, an element of law arising from Donoghue v Stevenson, which states: “you must take reasonable care to avoid acts and omissions which you can reasonably foresee would be likely to injure your