Involuntary Manslaughter

Key points and cases in the topic of Involuntary Manslaughter. Useful for OCR Special Study Jan 2011


Constructive/Unlawful Act Manslaughter

Elements of Constructive Manslaughter:

  • There must be an unlawful act
  • The unlawful act must have caused the victim's death
  • The unlawful act must have been objectively dangerous and likely to injure someone
  • The defendant must have the necessary mens rea for the unlawful act
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The Elements of Constructive Manslaughter

Element 1: There must be an unlawful act

  • Defendant must have committed an unlawful act which resulted in the victim's death
  • The act must be criminal (Franklin) and cannot be an omission (Lowe)
  • Examples of unlawful criminal acts are: assault; battery; arson; robbery; burglary

Element 2: The unlawful act must have caused the victim's death

  • Rules of causation apply here
  • But for test (Paggett)
  • Act need not be the sole cause of death, but must contribute significantly
  • Act need not be aimed at victim (Mitchell) or person (Goodfellow - aimed at property)
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Constructive Manslaughter (cont.)

Element 3: The unlawful act must be objectively dangerous and likely to injure someone

  • Act must be dangerous in the eyes of a 'sober, reasonable person' (objective test - Church)
  • Defendant must subject the victim to at least the possibility of some harm
  • Must be physically dangerous, resulting in physcial harm (Dawson)
  • Causing fear is not enough. (However, in Watson, causing fear was enough, as the victim was obviously frail to a 'sober, reasonable person' and was therefore vulnerable)

Element 4: Defendant must have necessary mens rea for the unlawful act

  • Without this, the elements for unlawful act manslaughter would not all be present.
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Problems with Constructive Manslaughter

Objective Test

Is the use of this test fair? Is it fair to blame the defendant if he didnt realise that there was a risk?


There are problems when the defendant supplies the drug, but the victim self injects - Has the defendant caused the victim's death? If the defendant only supplies the drugs and the victim injects, the chain of causation is broken and therefore the defendant is not guilty (Dalby). Even if the defendant prepares the syringe where victim self injects, he is not liable (Kennedy)

Labelling and sentencing

Many cases involve minor assault that unexexpectedly end in death. Should this be labelled manslaughter? There is stigma attached

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Key cases for Constructive Manslaughter

Below are some key cases for this topic. The case details are not mentioned, only how they impacted the law.

Lamb - lack of criminal act for Constructive manslaughter. There must be a positive act

Larkin - an example of an unlawful act is assault

R v Mitchell - the unlawful act need not be aimed at the victim

R v Goodfellow - the unlawful act may be aimed at property

R v Church - objective test for dangerousness of unlawful act

R v Newbury + Jones - it is not neccesary for the defendant to foresee harm

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Key cases (cont.)

R v Cato - Where the defendant injects the victim, the defedant will be liable for Constructive Manslaughter

R v Dalby - Rules of causation didnt apply: chain of causation broken due to victim self-injecting. Therefore defendant not liable

R v Dias - where victim self injects, chain of causation is broken

R v Kennedy - overruled Rogers (which stated that assisting the victim could result in a conviction for Constructive Manslaughter) and restored the principle in Dalby regarding liablity in self-injection cases.

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Gross Negligence Manslaughter

Elements of Gross Negligence Manslaughter:

  • Defendant must have a duty of care towards the victim
  • This duty must be breached
  • The breach must cause death
  • There must have been a risk that the breach could have caused death
  • The negligence must have been 'gross'
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Gross Negligence (cont.)

Element 1: There must be a duty of care

  • Defendant must owe victim a duty of care
  • The duty of care situations are similar to those in civil law
  • Donoghue and Stevenson said you owe a duty of care to your neighbour. Your neighbour is anyone who is directly affected by your actions

Element 2: There must be a breach of the duty

  • This is determined by an objective test: defendant must meet the standards of a reasonable person. Anything below this standard is a breach of the duty

Element 3: There must be a risk of death

  • The risk of death must be obvious to a reasonable person
  • This was stated in Adomako and confirmed in Misra
  • A risk of injury or to health and welfare is inadequate
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Gross Negligence (cont.)

Element 4: The breach must have caused death

  • This is a question of causation, both legal and factual
  • Was there an intervening act which broke the chain of causation?

Element 5: Was the negligence 'gross'?

  • The jury is left to decide whether the negligence was 'gross'
  • The negligence must be so bad as to amount to a criminal act (Bateman)
  • Andrews said a 'very  high degree of negligence' is required
  • But there is no precise definition of 'gross negligence'.
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Problems with Gross Negligence Manslaughter


  • The test in Adomako is circular
  • There is a mix of criminal and civil elements (e.g. controversy over duty of care) This causes uncertainty and inconsistency
  • Difficulties for jurors (The jury are given little help as to what 'gross negligence' really means)
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Key cases for Gross Negligence Manslaughter

R v Bateman - test for gross negligence (Must be so bad as to amount to a crime)

Andrews v DPP - meaning of gross negligence (must be a 'very high degree' of negligence)

R v Adomako - elements of Gross Negligence Manslaughter established

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Key cases for Gross Negligence Manslaughter (cont.

R v Singh - Gross Negligence Manslaughter resulting from a breach of a conractual duty

R v Wacker - Duty of care in an illegal act (note that this differs from civil law)

R Misra and another - There must be a risk of death

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Reckless Manslaughter


  • actus reus - Defendant causes victims death (no duty of care needed)
  • mens rea - subjective recklessness
  • Defendant must forsee (as highly probable) a risk of serious injury or death
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Reckless Manslaughter


  • Boundaries between murder and reckless manslaughter are blurred. This makes it difficult for juries.


  • Lidar (although defendant could have been convicted of gross negligence manslaughter, and it is difficult to see why a seperate category is needed.
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Reform of Unlawful Act Manslaughter

Reform of Constructive/unlawful act manslaughter:

  • In 1996, the Law Commission proposed the abolition of unlawful act manslaughter.
  • However, in their 2006 report, 'Murder, Manslaughter and Infanticide', the Law Commission recommended a three tier structure of homicide offences:
    • First degree murder
    • Second degree murder
    • Manslaughter
  • Manslaughter would cover:
    • Killing another through gross negligence
    • killing another person through: a) criminal act where defendant intented to cause injury, or b) criminal act which the defendant knew involved a serious risk of causing some injury
  • The second catergory would be known as 'criminal act manslaughter', and the defendant could only be convicted through a subjective test. More serious cases could be classed as second degree murder
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Reform of Gross Negligence Manslaughter

Reform of gross negligence manslaughter:

  • In 1996, Law Commission proposed instead of the current offence, there should be reckless killing, and killing by gross carelessness.
  • Reckless killing would be more serious as it would have to be proved that the defendant was aware his conduct could cause injury/death, and it was unreasonable for him to take that risk.
  • Killing by gross carelessness would cover cases where risk of injury would be obvious to a reasonble person, the defendant is capable of appreciating the risk, and either his conduct falls below expectations, or he intends his conduct to cause some injury.
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Reform of Gross Negligence Manslaughter (cont.)

Reform of gross negligence manslaughter (as reccommended in the 2006 report 'Murder, Manslaughter and Infanticide')

  • In their 2006 report, the Law Commission reccommended instead of the two categories previously suggested, there should just be gross negligence manslaughter, which would be committed where:
    • A person causes the death of another
    • A risk that his conduct will cause death is obvious to a reasonable person
    • The defendant is capable of appreciating that risk
    • The defendant's conduct falls below expectations
  • This would be fairer, as it would take into account young people and mentally ill by ensuring that the defendant is capable of appreciating the risk.
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Reform of Reckless Manslaughter

  • In 2006, the Law Commission reccommended the abolition of reckless manslaughter as a seperate category.
  • The worst cases of recklessness (where there was an intention to cause injury) would be accounted for in second degree murder.
  • For the less serious cases, recklessness would be covered by gross negligence manslaughter.
  • Under the new proposals, in Lidar, defendant would be liable for gross negligence manslaughter
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Charlotte Pink


Really helpful - thank you :)

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