Critically consider whether the law governing involuntary manslaughter is in a satisfactory state.

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Kate Allen

Critically consider whether the law governing involuntary manslaughter is in a satisfactory state.

Currently involuntary manslaughter involves a variety of situations where death has occurred as a result of the conduct of the accused and where it has been deemed appropriate to find the accused criminally responsible for that death. The accused will not have intended to kill or cause grievous bodily harm. The maximum sentence for the offence is life imprisonment and the judge has discretion in handing out the appropriate type and length of sentence up to that maximum. It is unknown for a non-custodial sentence to be given for an involuntary manslaughter conviction.

There have been many proposals for the reform of involuntary manslaughter through legislation, most recently in relation to so called corporate manslaughter. The debate has been given fresh impetus following the disastrous train crash at Ladbroke Grove, just outside Paddington Station in 1999.

There are three types of involuntary manslaughter. D will be convicted of constructive manslaughter if he kills by committing an act that is both ‘unlawful’ and ‘dangerous.’ It is called constructive manslaughter because the liability for death is built or ‘constructed’ from the unlawful and dangerous act from which the death has flowed even though the risk of death may never have been contemplated by the accused. For this reason the offence has often been criticised for being potentially harsh. On the other hand the death of an innocent victim has been caused by the unlawful and dangerous actions of the accused. The degree of blameworthiness will be reflected in the sentence. In DPP v Newbury and Jones (1977), two 15 year old boys pushed a paving stone from a bridge onto the cab of a train. The stone smashed through the cab window, hit a guard and killed him. The HOL upheld their manslaughter convictions without specifying upon which offence exactly this was based. However this sentence seems harsh considering, the boy’s age.

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The Actus Reus of constructive manslaughter is virtually exactly the same as for murder. This seems absurd as murder is intended however the only requirement is that D to causes the death of another human being.

In Dalby (1982), Waller LJ said, obiter, that ‘where the charge of manslaughter is based on an unlawful and dangerous act, it must be an act directed at the victim and likely to cause immediate injury, however slight.’ This dictum particularly the reference to ‘an act directed at the victim’ is notoriously ambiguous. However it has subsequently been held that Waller ...

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