Murder differs from manslaughter in as much as the perpetrator of manslaughter manifests a lesser degree of fault, in comparison to what is necessary for a crime to be classified as murder. Manslaughter is the unlawful killing of a human being, in the absence of malice or premeditation. This could be explicit or implied. On the other hand, the unlawful act would be construed to be murder if malicious intent were to be inherent. The following cases serve to establish, whether Al had committed an act of murder or manslaughter.
The consequence of Al’s criminal act of setting Barry’s stables on fire was that Wilf was suffocated by the smoke and later on died at the hospital. Wilf’s death occurred due to the defective equipment available at the hospital.
Intention or mens rea is the chief determining factor as to whether a crime is murder or manslaughter. In general the word intention chiefly implies purpose or desire. However, the judiciary defines it in several ways. These are first, direct intent, in which there should be some purpose or motive on the part of the accused that results in the action of the accused. The courts seek the motive of the accused in cases of direct intent. For instance, in R v Steane, the defendant Steane was accused of having assisted the enemy during war. The court opined that the accused had not intended to assist the enemy, and that his intention had been to protect his family from harm. His family had been threatened, if he failed to cooperate with the enemy. Due to this threat the accused had assisted the enemy.
Second, Oblique intent, which is applicable in cases, where there would be no actual desire for the result on part of the accused. However, the accused would have been in a position to predict the outcome of his actions. In Hyam v DPP, the accused was convicted of murder, as she had set fire to the house of the victim. She argued that she had set fire just to frighten the victim and not to kill the victim. The House of Lords did not accept her contention; because it was possible for the accused to have foreseen the result of her actions. Their Lordships found that the accused knew of the probable outcome of her actions and upheld the conviction for murder.
Third, ulterior intent, under which it is necessary to prove that the intentional act of the accused would bring about a related purpose. Intention is different from motive. The acts of a person depend on his motive. His mental awareness while committing such acts is his intention. Anticipation, foresight or prediction can be evidence of intention. However, such evidence is not substantial proof of intention or motive. In R v Moloney, the accused Moloney was convicted on charges of murder by the trial court. Moloney had shot his stepfather from close quarters. The House of Lords reversed the decision of the trial court and quashed the charges of conviction, because there was no intention to cause death or serious injury.
The Law Commission had recommended the definition of intention to be used by the courts. Under this definition, in order to establish the intention of a person, it should meet two conditions. First, the result of the acts of a person must have been desired by him. Second, in case the result was not according to his purpose, there should be evidence that the person had prior knowledge that it would occur in the ordinary course of events. This would be applicable, even though he had sought to achieve some other outcome.
R v Nedrick established an instance of oblique intention. The defendant Nedrick had deposited petrol through the letter box of a woman’s house and set the petrol on fire. A child lost its life due to the fire. The jury was required to establish the guilt of the defendant, by ascertaining whether the act of the defendant was intended to cause death or grievous injury. The jury arrived at a verdict of murder against the defendant. The latter appealed before the House of Lords, who set aside the decision of the trial court. They opined that there was no evidence with regard to the primary desire of the defendant to cause death or physical harm to anyone. Therefore, the defendant could not be declared as guilty of murder; consequently, their Lordships reduced the crime to one of manslaughter.
In R v Woolin, the defendant had gone berserk with rage and thrown his three – month old son onto a hard surface. The child died due to this act, and the defendant was held to be guilty of murder by the trial court. The appellate court quashed the decision of the trial court and held that the defendant was only guilty of manslaughter. It justified its decision by holding that the defendant had no intention of killing his son.
In R v Hancock and Shankland, the defendants threw a concrete block on a taxi. As a result of this, the taxi driver died. The trial court held that the defendants were guilty of murder; but the House of Lords held that the defendants were guilty of manslaughter, because there was no clear intent on their part to kill the taxi driver or cause him grievous physical injuries.
In R v Cunningham, the House of Lords held that the intention of the perpetrator to cause grievous bodily harm can be established easily. However, it is difficult to prove that the perpetrator had foresight that his act would result in death. Therefore, it not necessary to establish that the perpetrator realised that his act would prove to be fatal. This type of mens rea is indicated by section 1(1) of the Homicide Act, with regard to implied malice.
In DPP v Smith, it was held by the House of Lords that a murder charge can be established if a reasonable person could anticipate that the actions of the defendant would necessarily result in death or grievous bodily harm to another person. In other words, intention behind a criminal act should be assessed objectively.
In the Hyam case, the House of Lords ruled that a verdict of murder was justified, provided Hyam had anticipated that grievous injury or death would ensue from her criminal act. From the legal perspective, specific intent connotes the commission of a criminal act, in order to achieve the outcome or with the awareness that the criminal act, would in all probability, produce that result. This was clearly depicted in Hyam v DPP. In this case, Pearl Hyam suspected Booth of contemplating marriage with her erstwhile beau. This made her extremely jealous and she decided to prevent Booth from embarking upon such a course of action. Accordingly, Hyam caused Booth’s house to catch fire. In this incident, Booth lost two of her children.
In R v. Smith, the chain of causation was held to be unbroken and that the incidents that had transpired between the infliction of the knife wound and death were deemed to be inadequate to bring about a severance in the chain of causation.
In R v Blaue, the defendant stabbed the victim, who was a Jehovah’s Witness; who died in hospital, as she did not accept medical treatment. The defendant was convicted and the court held the chain of causation had not been broken.
The chain of causation remained unbroken in our present case, in accordance with the decision in R v Blaue.
In Matthews and Alleyne, the Court of Appeal, held that the guidelines offered in Nedrick and Woolin were rules of evidence. In the Mathews case, a young man drowned after he was thrown into water by the defendants. The latter were charged with murder. The Court of Appeal held that foresight of death or serious injury as a probability was insufficient intent for murder.
Provocation was defined as an act that would result in an instantaneous loss of self control in any reasonable person. It makes the accused lose control over his mind. Section 3 of the Homicide Act 1957, extended the defence even to provocative words. The Homicide Act requires the jury to consider the fact that the provocation could cause a reaction in a reasonable person. In Ahluwalia the court considered as provocation, a series of acts that escalated the distress caused to a person. However, the effectiveness of the defence of provocation reduces with the increase in the duration of the delay between the provocative act and the unlawful response to it.
Al cannot claim the defence of provocation, because his criminal act was not the result of a sudden loss of control. The former had felt deeply frustrated at the failure of Barry to repay the gambling debt. In addition, quite some time had elapsed between the time that the debt had arisen and his criminal act.
As per the discussion with regard to the aspect of intention; Al should have foreseen the outcome of his criminal act. Any reasonable person, in Al’s place, would have foreseen that his illegal act would cause death or grievous bodily harm. Al’s intention was to terrorise Barry into making good the amount owed to him. Therefore, Al is guilty of murder, as per the aforementioned discussions of the relevant case law. In addition, the elements of sudden provocation and unstable mental condition were absent; therefore, Al’s criminal act cannot be deemed to be manslaughter.
DPP v Smith (1960) 3 All ER 161; (1961) AC 290
Hyam v DPP (1975) AC 55
Molan, Michael T et al. Modern Criminal Law. Routledge Cavendish, 2003. P. 65
Molan, Michael T et al. Modern Criminal Law. Routledge Cavendish, 2003. P. 57.
Molan, Michael T, Douglas, Geoff. Questions & Answers: Criminal Law. Oxford University Press US. 2008 Pp. 11 – 13
R v Blaue (1975) 61 Cr App R 271
R v. Cunningham (1981) 2 All ER 863
R v Hancock and Shankland (1985) 2 WLR 257
R v Moloney (1985) AC 90S
R v Nedrick (1986) 1 WLR 1025, CA
R v. Smith (1959) 2 All ER 193
R v Steane (1947) 1 All ER 813
R v Woolin (1999) 1 AC 82
Richards, Martin et al. Body Lore and Laws: Essays on Law and the Human Body. Hart Publishing, 2002. Pp. 110 – 112.
Yeo, Stanley. Fault in Homicide: Towards a Schematic Approach to the Fault Elements for Murder and Involuntary Manslaughter in England, Australia and India. Federation Press. 1997. P.3
Stanley Yeo. Fault in Homicide: Towards a Schematic Approach to the Fault Elements for Murder and Involuntary Manslaughter in England, Australia and India. Federation Press. 1997. P.3  R v Steane (1947) 1 All ER 813  Hyam v DPP (1974) 2 All ER 41  R v Moloney (1985) AC 90S  Michael T Molan, Geoff Douglas. Questions & Answers: Criminal Law. Oxford University Press US. 2008 Pp. 11 – 13  R v Nedrick (1986) 1 WLR 1025, CA  R v Woolin (1999) 1 AC 82  R v Hancock and Shankland (1985) 2 WLR 257  R v. Cunningham (1981) 2 All ER 863  DPP v Smith (1960) 3 All ER 161; (1961) AC 290  Michael T Molan et al. Modern Criminal Law. Routledge Cavendish, 2003. P. 57.
 Hyam v DPP (1975) AC 55  R v. Smith (1959) 2 All ER 193  R v Blaue (1975) 61 Cr App R 271  Michael T Molan et al. Modern Criminal Law. Routledge Cavendish, 2003. P. 65
 Martin Richards, et al. Body Lore and Laws: Essays on Law and the Human Body. Hart Publishing, 2002. Pp. 110 – 112.