Involuntary manslaughter Paper Example

In order to advise Aidan on his criminal liability, it is necessary to look into the law of unlawful homicide and in particular, involuntary manslaughter. It is a general principle of criminal law that a person may not be convicted of a crime unless it can be proved beyond reasonable doubt that he has caused a certain event, or that responsibility is to be attributed to him for the existence of a certain state of affairs which is forbidden by criminal law, actus reus; and that he had a defined state of mind in relation to the causing of the event or the existence of the state of affairs, mens rea.

Murder is defined as the 'killing of a human being with malice aforethought', which is the intention to kill (express malice) or cause serious bodily harm (implied malice)1 and it is a common law offence. Constructive malice was abolished by section 1 Homicide Act 1957 and the 'year and a day rule' by the Law Reform (Year and a Day Rule) Act 1996. From the information given, we are told that Aidan placed a firebomb in St.

Bartold's in order to protest against the NHS reforms. Aidan does not have the intention to kill or to cause grievous bodily harm because we are told that he spent some time working on the bomb to ensure that it will not explode accidentally and he did not intent to cause any injuries as he had rang the police to warn them to vacate the building. As Aidan lacked the mens rea of murder, Aidan will not be guilty for murder or voluntary manslaughter.

However, by considering the death of each victim in turn as they raise slightly different factual issues, Aidan may be liable for constructive manslaughter, also known as unlawful act manslaughter, as no intention to kill or cause grievous bodily harm is necessary to be proved for this offence. 2 It is enough that Aidan either has committed an unlawful and dangerous act and from that act a death has result. 3 A dangerous act is one which carries with it the risk of some harm resulting, although not necessarily serious harm.

4 Whether by placing a firebomb in the hospital is dangerous is to be assessed objectively that is, by the view of a sober and reasonable person. 5 Thus, putting a firebomb in the hospital is likely to be an unlawful act and a criminal wrong, not merely a civil one6 as clearly established in the Criminal Damage Act 1971 where "a person who without lawful excuse destroys or damages any property belonging to another intending to destroy or damage any such property or being reckless as to whether any such property would be destroyed or damaged shall be guilty of an offence".

7 When Aidan activated the firebomb which was hidden in the hospital, this is clear destruction and to protest against NHS reforms will not be a sufficient lawful excuse for his action. Here, the mens rea is intention to bomb and in this case, it would be appropriate to apply the Caldwell recklessness test as Aidan had chosen to undertake the placing of firebomb when he had actually personally saw the 'obvious and serious risk' but nonetheless went ahead activating the firebomb anyway. 8

Furthermore, the bombing of the hospital by Aidan must be strongly related to the death that has resulted, and a novus actus interveniens must not have arisen to break the chain of causation. 9 It is valuable to note that the unlawful act must have been a substantial cause of the victim's death, although it need not be the only cause. By the facts alone, we are being told that Aidan is concerned that the bombing should not cause any injuries, but it now appears that the unlawful act need not be directed at the victim nor, indeed, at a human being at all. 10

As regards to Catharine's death, from the facts given, we are told that Catharine died in results of the explosion. Yet, we have to take the medical evidence which indicated that she had less than a week to live in any case into consideration. This is because Aidan would only be criminally liable for constructive manslaughter if his conduct made a significant contribution to Catharine's death. With the facts that are available to us, it is clear that despite the fact that Catharine had only less than a week to live in any case, 'but for' the explosion of firebomb by Aidan, Catharine's death would not have occurred.

11 After satisfying the 'but for' test, it is also shown that Aidan's act was a substantial cause of Catharine's death and that no intervening act had broken the chain of causation. 12 Furthermore, Aidan must 'take his victim as he finds her',13 which is the 'eggshell skull' rule. Therefore, Aidan cannot use Catharine's pre-existing medical condition in his defence as even though Aidan's act may not have been directed at Catharine, it was a direct as well as an operating cause of Catharine's death and it was, objectively, dangerous. 14 Thus, Aidan would be liable for constructive manslaughter.

On the issue of Derek's and Euan's death, the main problem in finding the actus reus will concern the question of causation. There are three possible breaks in the chain of causation. The first is Derek's discontinuing on the life support, the poor and bad treatment Finnis given to him and Eaun's refusal for blood transfusion. Nevertheless, Aidan can only be held responsible for a death where his act are both a 'factual' and a 'legal' cause of the victim's death. Again, it is necessary to apply the test of both factual and legal causation.