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Defining Unlawful Act Manslaughter

Discuss the following issues in relation to Unlawful Act manslaughter only

  1. Keith’s liability for the deaths of Kurt and Janis
  2. Ginger’s liability for Lenny’s death.

In the given case study emphasis has been laid upon the issues relating to the unlawful act of manslaughter. It is noteworthy to mention that for the purpose of the issue, the concepts relating to unlawful act and unlawful manslaughter needs to be discussed. According to the provisions of Section 1 of the Corporate Manslaughter and Corporate Homicide Act 2007, unlawful manslaughter can be defined as the act committed by a person causing death to the other person with the means of dangerous and unlawful act. In this regard an unlawful act on manslaughter is established when any act is based upon criminal activity. However for the act to be unlawful and related to manslaughter it is necessary that the act must be:

  • Must give rise to substantial cause of death.
  • Mens Rea.

It can be stated that manslaughter gives rise to the concept of unlawful act which is associated with a criminal activity. In R v Mitchell[1] the Court of Appeal held that in order to establish the criminal activity of manslaughter it is mandatory to prove that the suspect has pledged an unlawful act, the activity was so dangerous that any person with sound mind would consider it to be harmful, the act can cause substantial death, that he crime was committed with an intention to cause harm. The Law Commission in its report- Legislating the Criminal Code Involuntary Manslaughter 1996[2], analyzed the leading offences associated with the concept of manslaughter and established the principles of constructive manslaughter. As stated by the Law Commission, it is not possible for a reasonable man to foresee the consequences of his act. In other words, a person should not be held liable for the death of another person which he did not intend or envisage and which would not have been expected by a person of sound mind.

In the given scenario it can be observed that Keith and Ginger being heroin addicts experimented on Kurt and Janis with heroin with their consent. However it can be seen that the dose of heroin as prepared and injected by Keith was contaminated and as a result of this both Janis and Kurt died as a result of heroin overdose. It was seen that later on Keith attempted to dispose the dead bodies of Kurt and Janis. Based on the understandings of the provided case study, it can be stated that Keith has committed unlawful act of manslaughter associated with dangerous and unlawful activity which in modern context is defined as constructive manslaughter. In the given case study it is mentioned that Keith injected the dose of heroin into both Kurt and Janis with their prior consent. However it has been established in R v Cato[3] that the prior approval of the sufferer shall not avert the act from being unlawful. In R v Cato, it was seen that Mr. Cato and the victim prepared their own heroin doses and injected into each other. In this case Mr. Cato was held liable for manslaughter and was convicted according to the provisions of Section 23 of the Offences against the Person Act 1861[4]. It was retained by the Judge that heroin is a dangerous substance which can cause death if overused in any way. It was held that the injection of heroin is associated with the cause of death and in order to establish it, it is important to trace out that whether manslaughter has taken place or not. In this case the victim’s consent taken by Mr. Cato before the injection of heroin however it was held by the jurists that such consent was purely irrelevant in this case. Mr. Cato claimed that heroin is not a noxious thing and do not give rise to malicious administration under the provisions of Section 23 of the Offences against the Person Act 1861[5]. It was held by the Judge in R v Cato that the act of injection of heroin was such that it will cause substantial death. Secondly, it was held that the consent of the victim was not a relevant facto in his case and therefore such consent cannot be used as a defense to manslaughter. Thirdly, it was held that the possession of heroin was unlawful and Mr. Cato kept the injection of heroin in his possession even after having knowledge about its harmful consequences. Finally it was established that heroin is a harmful substance and is described as a noxious thing for the purposes of Section 23 of the Offences against the Person Act 1861[6]. It was held that since the administration acted deliberately and therefore it was not required to find the scope of maliciousness.

Analysis of R v Cato

The findings of the abovementioned case law can be used to establish the point that whether Keith is liable for the death of Kurt and Janis. In this regard it can be stated that, Keith was aware of the fact that heroin is potentially harmful substance which can cause death if overdosed. However even after knowing about the consequences of the injection of such harmful substance Keith kept them in possession and injected it on his Kurt and Janis. It can be observed that though Kurt and Janis gave their consent however such consent is irrelevant in this case. Finally, it can be stated that Keith is liable for the deaths of Kurt and Janis and has committed the unlawful act of manslaughter. 

Mens rea can be defined as the mental element which is an important concept in establishing the rules of substantive criminal law. The conception of mens rea was derived from the maxim “actus non facit reum, nisi mens sit rea.” The concept of mens rea is an essential ingredient in order to establish criminal offence. In order to establish the fact that the accused have committed the criminal offence with a guilty mind it is required to establish that the accused have committed the crime with an intention. In this regard it is important to prove that the accused have committed the crime by foreseeing its consequences along with a criminal intention. The concept of mens rea also applies to unlawful act of manslaughter. It is pertinent that the unlawful act of men rea is associated with the intention of the accused and recklessness depending on the case. In some cases it has been observed that he accused do not realize that their acts could cause serious harm to the victim. It has been stated in R v Lamb[7] that if no mens rea has been established for the unlawful act then the respondent shall not be accountable.

The importance of mens rea in the concept of unlawful act of manslaughter can be explained with the help of a similar case study. In R v Dawson[8] it was observed that the accused approached a petrol station which was in the possession of a 50 year old man. The accused along with a gang attempted robbery with the help of imitation gun. The accused along with his gang demanded money however they did not touch the attendant. The attendant had serious pre-existing hear condition and he died due to the mishap created by the accused and his gang. The accused was not aware of such health condition of the accused. The accused was charged with unlawful act of manslaughter and convicted for the same. It was held by the Court that the accused have committed the crime without knowing the consequences. The defendant had no knowledge regarding the pre-existing heart condition of the station assistant and therefore he had not committed the crime with a guilty mind. The appeal of the defendant was allowed on the ground that the act of the defendant was not as such to give rise to unlawful act. An act in order to be unlawful must be dangerous and the defendant should be able to foresee the consequences of such dangerous act. The act was not considered to be dangerous by the Court of Justice on the ground that any reasonable person would not consider the act to be dangerous.

In the present case study it can be observed that Ginger went to confront Lenny, the person who provided them with the heroin. It was observed that during such meeting with Lenny, Ginger became enraged and slammed his fist against the desk of Lenny. Lenny was in his 60’s and was suffering from serious heart condition which was unknown to Ginger. Lenny died due to sudden heat attack due to Ginger’s cause of action.

Based on the understandings of the concept of mens rea, it can be stated that Ginger was not aware of the prevailing heart condition of Lenny. The act committed by Lenny cannot be considered as dangerous as any reasonable man in common would not consider such act to be dangerous. In this regard, it can be stated that Lenny did not foresee the consequences that could arise as a result of his act.

It can therefore be established that Ginger is not liable for the death of Lenny. 

Current Issue, 'Territorial Jurisdiction And Criminalization | University Of Toronto Law Journal' (Utpjournals.press, 2018) <https://www.utpjournals.press/doi/abs/10.3138/utlj.1117-3> accessed 6 January 2018

R V Cato [1976] 1 WLR 110

R V Dawson (1985) 81 Cr App R 150

R V Lamb 1967 2 QB 981

R v Mitchell [1983] QB 741

'Serious Violence By People With Mental Illnessjournal Of Interpersonal Violence - Sandra Flynn, Cathryn Rodway, Louis Appleby, Jenny Shaw, 2014' (Journals.sagepub.com, 2018) <https://journals.sagepub.com/doi/abs/10.1177/0886260513507133> accessed 6 January 2018

'Still Killing With Impunity: Corporate Criminal Law Reform In The UK' (Taylor & Francis, 2018) <https://www.tandfonline.com/doi/abs/10.1080/14774003.2013.11667790> accessed 6 January 2018

 'Unlawful And Dangerousthe Journal Of Criminal Law - Tony Storey, 2017' (Journals.sagepub.com,2018)<https://journals.sagepub.com/doi/abs/10.1177/0022018317694715> accessed 6 January 2018

[1] [1983] QB 741

[2]  'Still Killing With Impunity: Corporate Criminal Law Reform In The UK' (Taylor & Francis, 2018) <https://www.tandfonline.com/doi/abs/10.1080/14774003.2013.11667790> accessed 6 January 2018.

[3] [1976] 1 WLR 110

[4] 'Serious Violence By People With Mental Illnessjournal Of Interpersonal Violence - Sandra Flynn, Cathryn Rodway, Louis Appleby, Jenny Shaw, 2014' (Journals.sagepub.com, 2018) <https://journals.sagepub.com/doi/abs/10.1177/0886260513507133> accessed 6 January 2018.

[5] Unlawful And Dangerousthe Journal Of Criminal Law - Tony Storey, 2017' (Journals.sagepub.com, 2018) <https://journals.sagepub.com/doi/abs/10.1177/0022018317694715> accessed 6 January 2018.

[6] Current Issue, 'Territorial Jurisdiction And Criminalization | University Of Toronto Law Journal' (Utpjournals.press, 2018) <https://www.utpjournals.press/doi/abs/10.3138/utlj.1117-3> accessed 6 January 2018.

[7] (1967) 2 QB 981

[8] (1985) 81 Cr App R 150

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