Unlawful Act Manslaughter is a common law offence and isn’t defined under any particular statute. The offence is defined as an unlawful, criminal act, which is dangerous and which causes the death of the victim.
Act - The killing must result from an act rather than an omission. Where the death results from an omission, you should instead consider Murder or Gross Negligence Manslaughter as the criminal charge.
The act must be unlawful in a criminal sense. A civil wrong is not enough, as illustrated in the case of R v Franklin, where the defendant threw a box off a pier, killing a swimmer. At the time, the throwing of the box off the pier was considered a civil offence, rather than a criminal one, so the defendant could not be found guilty of unlawful act manslaughter. In the case of R v Lamb, the defendant pointed and fired a revolver, killing the victim. However, since neither the defendant nor the victim believed that the revolver would fire a bullet, there was technically no “assault”. This is because there was no apprehension of violence, which is a necessary part of a criminal assault charge.
The term “dangerous” is defined by an objective test, laid down in the case of R v Church. Here, the court decided that the unlawful act must be such as all sober and reasonable people would inevitably recognise…the risk of some harm. Recognition of serious harm is not required for danger to be established. Where serious harm is recognised, students should consider that a Murder charge may be more appropriate, as there is the possibility that the defendant might satisfy the requirement for “malice aforethought implied”, as illustrated in the case of R v Vickers.
Finally, the unlawful and dangerous act must be the cause of the death. In some cases, it may be possible that the unlawful and dangerous act is merely coincidental to the death. Cases involving drug taking are interesting to note. For example, in the case of R v Kennedy, the defendant supplied the victim with heroin. This is an act which is unlawful and would be considered dangerous. However, since the injection of heroin was what killed the victim, rather than simply being supplied with it, the defendant was found not guilty of unlawful act manslaughter.
Gross Negligence Manslaughter - This is a common law offence, which can be committed via an act or an omission. It was originally defined in R v Bateman. However, it was more recently defined very clearly in the case of R v Adomako. In R v Adomako, the defendant was an anaesthetist, whose job it was to monitor amongst other things, the oxygen supply to the patient during a routine eye operation. The oxygen tube became disconnected and consequently the victim died.
At the trial it was established that the defendant clearly breached their duty of care to the victim by failing to monitor the victim’s oxygen levels. In fact, it was argued that the reasonable man, in other words, other competent anaesthetists, would have noticed the disconnected tube much earlier than the defendant and so harm would not have resulted. In fact, at the trial, expert witnesses argued that a competent anaesthetist would have realised the signs of the oxygen tube disconnection after about 15 seconds, rather than the four minutes that the defendant took, and even then only after being alerted by the alarm on the machine.
According the the judgement in R v Lawrence and reaffirmed in R v Adomako, the risk to the victim must be of death, rather than simply a risk of some injury.
Finally, it is up to the jury to decide whether the level of negligence exhibited was “so gross” as to amount to a criminal rather than a civil negligence charge. A good quote to use in your exam answers comes from Lord Mackay LC, in Adomako: “whether having regard to the risk of death involved, the conduct of the defendant was so bad in all the circumstances as to amount in their judgment to a criminal act or omission”.
Another good quote to use is from Lord Hewart CJ, in R v Bateman, where the court argued that “to support an indictment for manslaughter theprosecution must satisfy the jury that the negligence of the accused… showed such disregard for the life and safety of others as to amount to a crime against the State and conduct deserving punishment.”
The grossness also depends upon the seriousness of the breach of duty committed by the defendant, in all the circumstances in which the defendant was placed, when it occurred. This gives the jury the option to assess the seriousness within the context of the situation.
- Unlawful must be in a criminal sense, not a civil sense, as decided in R v ______, where a box thrown from a pier hit a swimmer below.
- In R v Lamb, there was no offence of ______ as the victim believed the revolver would not fire?
- Is the test laid down in R v Church subjective or objective?
- In R v Lawrence, the risk to the victim, for Gross Negligence Manslaughter, must be of _____?
- An oxygen tube became disconnected, leading to the death of the patient in which case, R v ______?