Law Essay Question : Does the law on Involuntary Manslaughter need to be reformed?
The definition of involuntary manslaughter is an unlawful killing committed without the mens rea for murder. There are 2 types of IM – Gross Negligence Manslaughter () for which the case is Andrews V DPP () and Unlawful Act Manslaughter (). The legal definition of murder is the unlawful killing of a reasonable creature under the Queen’s peace with malice aforethought. Murder is separated into 2 parts – Actus Reus and Mens Rea. There are many issues for and against reform on Involuntary Manslaughter.
Unlawful Act Manslaughter occurs when the defendant is committing another crime e.g. if the victim dies due to the unlawful criminal act even when the accused doesn’t forsee that death may occur . There are 4 main ‘ingredients’ of the offence which are unlawful act which MUST be a crime not a civil wrong, dangerous act which must be physically dangerous, causing death and finally the defendant must have Mens Rea for unlawful act but they didn’t forsee any harm. The cases for each ingredient are as follows: unlawful act – Larkin, Lamb; dangerous act – Church; causes death – Cato ; Mens Rea for unlawful act Caret.
Gross Negligence Manslaughter is where the defendant has done a lawful act negligently when he should’ve acted which resulted in death. The 3 main ingredients of Gross Negligence Manslaughter is : duty of care, breach of duty and causing death. The cases for each ingredient respectively is Donoghue V Stephenson (),
There are three main issues with Unlawful Act Manslaughter : 1). There is a wide range of conduct , 2) Death may be the unexpected result and finally the objective test : “D who did not realise there was a risk of injury is still guilty.
Wide range of conduct
UAM covers a lot of conduct. The act can be as minor as pushing V or the conduct may just be short of murder. So, therefore the level of blame worthiness and can vary from case to case. In order to combat this, there should be different levels of the offense for it to be fairer to defendants. Any sentence can be used – there is no maximum or minimum sentence. This means that life imprisonment could be the maximum sentence whereas there could be a minimum sentence of a community or a fine, community service etc. It’s to the Judges discretion of the seriousness of the level of blameworthiness. A solution to this, there could be separate categories of the offense, which would each have a narrower band of sentences available in order to make it easier for Judges to give appropriate sentences for the relevant crime.Death may be an unexpected result
This occurs in many UAM cases where death is an unexpected result of D’s conduct. For example in the case of Mitchell (D punched a man who then knocked into an elderly woman. She died.) Where the death of the Victim was unexpected as a result of D’s conduct. However, in the case of Cato it’s a different scenario (D had prepared drugs with his friends and injected each other with heroin resulting in death). The death was an expected result as they took an illegal harmful substance. The question raised is: Should both D’s be guilty of the same offence? Is the blameworthiness similar? Or should there be different categories of offences?.
In 1996, the Law Commission stated in a report that they recommended the abolition of UAM. However there is a problem of doing so. Why should D be guilty of murder when he didn’t realise the risk of harm to D? This highlights the problem with having an objective test to the law on UAM. This rule is in Conflict with the law on recklessness which is required for the mens rea. Under the law of recklessness, D must have shown to be aware of the risk.
Reforms of UAM
In their report, the Law Commission recommended the abolition of UAM. They also recommended having a 3 tier structure for homicides which are: First Degree Murder, Second Degree Murder and Manslaughter. Under the proposals, they would cover killing another person through gross Negligence and killing another person intending to cause injury and if the D was aware of a serious risk of causing injury. There would also be a second category called ‘criminal act manslaughter’ which would be different to the current manslaughter (UAM) as the D could only be convicted on a subjective test – He or she must have either intended to cause injury or be aware that the act would cause serious injury. This solution could help defendants and prevent them being convicted of manslaughter.