Involuntary manslaughter occurs when an unlawful act results in the death of another or when the death is a result of serious criminal negligence.
Where manslaughter results after an unlawful act, it is recognised as constructive manslaughter.
There are three main elements to constructive manslaughter;
- A criminal act is carried out by the defendant which results in the death of another
- The act must have involved a risk that meant someone would be harmed
- The defendant must have intended to commit an unlawful act which directly resulted in the death of the victim
The majority of cases that fall into the first category are those which relate to drugs. There have been numerous instances where drug users assist people to take drugs but there have been cases in the court where a drug dealer has not been held accountable for the drug user’s death because of the drugs that they provided.
In this instance, it is important to determine the chain of events that led to the death of the drug user looking at unlawful acts and the resulting death.
Reviewed Case Perspective
When cases are reviewed from the second perspective an objective test must be taken to identify the risk. The test in this instance would be whether a normal person who witnessed the act would identify the risk. In addition, the harm must be physical.
It would not suffice for the harm to be emotional or psychological. Case law in this area has established that for the offence to be committed, the unlawful act must be dangerous and one that a normal person would recognise it would place the victim at risk of physical harm.
When an individual commits manslaughter it is murder but without any thought beforehand.
It is important to distinguish the difference between voluntary and involuntary manslaughter.
This occurs when there is a direct intention to cause serious physical harm to another or kill another person. There are only two defences against voluntary manslaughter. The first is where the defendant pleads loss of control and the second is lack of mental function, sometimes referred to as temporary insanity.
Without either of these the offence would be classed as murder.
In 2009, the Coroners and Justice Act revised law on loss of control or diminished responsibility and they removed the law which relates to being provoked.
A court case for voluntary manslaughter must consider a number of factors including;
- Actus Reus or Mens Rea – This relates to intention to commit murder
- Is there sufficient evidence combined with a strong enough motive to convict the individual for the more serious offence of murder. If not this should be dealt with differently as involuntary manslaughter. If on the other hand the evidence is there and the motive is strong enough the legal professional should answer the following questions;
- Was there evidence of any abnormal mental function? In this instance a plea for diminished responsibility can be made but it is only applicable if this is a result of a recognised medical condition which caused a significant impairment to the ability of the defendant and they could not understand the nature of their actions at the time. If not, the following question should be asked;
- Did the individual lose control? – Here the amended Coroners Justice Act clause comes in. Under Section 54(2) whether the loss of control happened suddenly is not relevant. To establish a defence of provocation loss of control is both temporary and sudden.
- Was there a qualifying trigger? Where there is a loss of control there must be something to trigger the action.Two triggers under section 55(3) are fear and anger.
For a case to be proven under involuntary manslaughter the defence must be able to demonstrate they have an Actus Reus for murder, but not a Mens Rea. In this defence they are responsible but they had no motive.
Involuntary manslaughter is divided into four distinct categories;
- Unlawful Act
- For involuntary manslaughter the act must be both intentional and unlawful and it must be dangerous and the cause of death.
- Gross Negligence – There must have been a duty of care owed to the victim and this was breached through negligence which resulted in their death
- Subjectively Reckless – An act which was reckless and resulted in death
- Corporate Manslaughter – Activities carried out by a senior management team involving a breach in terms of duty of care that resulted in a death. Corporate Manslaughter falls under the Corporate Homicide Act of 2007.
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This article was written by a member of the Expert Answers legal advice team. Expert Answers provides online legal advice on all aspects of UK Law to users in the United Kingdom.