Unlawful act of Manslaughter (UAM), also
referred as ”constructive manslaughter” is a type of Involuntary manslaughter
which arises when the defendant deliberately takes out an illicit and minacious
act, which leads to the death of someone else. It only consists of Actus Reus
and Mens Rea is not present. It consists of four elements which were deduced by
Lord Salmon in DPP v Newbury and Jones1.
The first and foremost element is that the
act must be intentional. This element comes from the Judgement of R v Lowe2 where it was made clear that a person can only be convicted of UAM
if they took out an act intentionally, which lead to the death of a person. A negligent omission from the part of the
defendant cannot be used to convict them for UAM.
The second element is that the act must
be unlawful, this was derived from R v Franklin3, it is that the act which was
intentionally taken out by the defendant must be unlawful, this means that the
act must be a criminal offence rather than being morally or just against civil
law if the defendant is to be convicted of UAM.
The third element is that the act must
be objectively dangerous, the word ”dangerous” here means that it should be
dangerous in the eyes of a sober and reasonable person. This meaning of the
word comes from R v Church4 in which Edmund Davies LJ provided the
following and gave what is known as an ”objective test” for dangerousness –
” the unlawful act must be such as all sober
and reasonable people would inevitably recognise must subject the other person
to, at least, the risk of some harm resulting therefrom, albeit not serious
The last and fourth element is that act
must cause death. It is also the most essential element that the intentional,
unlawful and dangerous act taken out by the defendant must have caused
someone’s death to convict them for UAM. If such an act did not cause the death
of a person, then the defendant cannot be convicted of UAM.
When the above mentioned four elements
are proved by the prosecution, only then can the defendant be convicted of UAM,
not even a single element should be missing.
Along with proving the existence of four
elements of UAM, the prosecution also must establish the presence of factual
and legal causation for the defendant to be convicted. The chain of causation
must be established as it help’s the prosecution to prove the liability of the
crime on the defendant, although it must be kept in mind that it does not make
the defendant fully liable.
Factual causation was first introduced
in Barnett v Chelsea & Kensington
as the ”But For” test, it refers to the fact that had it not been for the
actions of the defendant, would the same consequences have taken place or not.
Whereas Legal Causation simply means
that the defendant’s actions had a more than minimal involvement in the process
which resulted in the victim’s death. This is also known as the de minimis principle.
An important factor that can break the
chain of causation is ”Novus actus interveniens”, which means new intervening
act, here the word new refers to an action which was done by someone else
rather than the defendant which significantly contributed to the victim’s
The question provides us with three
possible liabilities to be discussed in relation to UAM.
The First possible liability is that of
Keith’s liability for the death of Kurt. The facts in the problem provide us with
the information that Kurt himself injected the syringe of Heroine in himself
whilst it was Keith who prepared it for him.
Keith does take out an unlawful act by possessing Heroin under section 5. (2)
of MDA 19717,
intentionally makes the syringe for Kurt without any force or pressure on him
and his action of preparing drugs would have been conceived dangerous by a
reasonable man as he is not a licensed practitioner or permitted to own
controlled drugs and his actions contribute to Kurt dying, Keith is not liable
for Kurt’s death in relation to UAM but as the chain of causation is broken by
the action Kurt injecting himself as it was stated in R
v Kennedy (No. 2)8
” where a person is
charged with unlawful act of manslaughter has supplied the victim with an
illicit drug which victim has self-injected, the defendant is not guilty of
manslaughter because the free and voluntary act of self-administration by the
victim breaks the chain of causation ”9
The Second possible liability is again on Keith, but this time it is
on him in relation to Janis’s death. Unlike Kurt who injected himself with the
syringe of Heroin, Janis was injected by Keith himself, hence the outcome of
this liability will be different than the one we have already discussed.
The first element exists as Keith
intentionally and knowingly prepared and injected Janis with the syringe of
Heroin whilst in a sane state of mind and no pressure on him.
The second element is in presence as
well as by injecting Janis with the syringe of Heroin, Keith committed an
unlawful act under section 23 of the OAPA 186110 which states
shall unlawfully and maliciously administer to or cause to be administered to
or taken by any other person any poison or other destructive or noxious thing,
so as thereby to endanger the life of such person……. shall be guilty of felony,
and being convicted thereof shall be liable to be kept in penal servitude for
any term not exceeding ten years”11
third element of UAM is also present as injecting someone with Heroin is a
dangerous act, especially in this case where it was neither injected because of
medical reasons nor by a legitimate practitioner and Janis’s death forms the
fourth element of UAM.
chain of causation is also unbroken as there was no new intervening act and had
it not been for Keith preparing and injecting the syringe of Heroin in Janis,
she would have been alive. So, based on the presence of all elements of UAM, an
unbroken chain of causation and authority of R v Cato12
in which the defendant was convicted of UAM because the victim died as the
defendant administering a noxious article into
the victim; Keith is liable for the death of Janis in relation to UAM.
The third possible liability
is on Ginger for Lenny’s death. It is inevitably clear that had it not been for
Ginger becoming enraged and slamming his fist on Lenny’s desk, Lenny would not
have died there and then, But the fact the Ginger had no prior knowledge about
Lenny having a heart condition plays a big role in deciding whether he will be
found guilty or not.
From R v Dawson13 it is understood that a reasonable man
should have the knowledge that the defendant had or should have and in R v Watson14 it was made clear that if a sober and
reasonable person would have seen something as a danger in the place of the
defendant, only then the act is to be considered dangerous.
By vetting the actions of
Ginger with what is understood by the above-mentioned cases, it can be clearly
seen that his act of becoming enraged and slamming his fist on Lenny’s desk
would not have been considered dangerous by a reasonable man in his place as
they would have been as clueless about Lenny’s heart condition as Ginger was.
Now after understanding why this act was not dangerous, we discover that all
four elements of UAM are not present and hence Lenny cannot be called liable
for Ginger’s death in relation to UAM.
In conclusion, for a
defendant to be convicted of UAM, the four elements must to be proved by the
prosecution along with an unbroken chain of causation, as satisfied only in the
scenario of Keith’s liability for Janis’s death.
1 DPP v Newbury; DPP v Jones 1977 AC 500, 1976 2 All ER 365 (Lord
2 R v Lowe 1973 QB 702
3 R v Franklin (1883) 15 Cox CC
4 R v Church 1965 2 WLR
1220 (Edmund Davies LJ)
5 R v Church
1965 2 WLR 1220
on 2 January 2018
6Barnett v Chelsea & Kensington Hospital 1969 1 QB 428
7 Misuse of
drugs act 1971, S 5.2
R V Kennedy (No 2) 2007 UKHL 38
Monaghan, Criminal Law (4th edn, Oxford University press 2016) 143
Against the Person Act 1861, s 23
Against the Person act
on 3 January 2018
12 R V Cato 1976 1 WLR 110
13 R v Dawson and others 1985 81 Cr App
14 R. v. Watson (1989) 2 All ER 865