“Recklessness whether murder be committed is different from, and more serious than, recklessness whether death be caused by an accident. ” Similarly, the Law Commission expressed its dissatisfaction with the state of the current law in relation to involuntary manslaughter. The more troubling aspect of involuntary manslaughter was the law’s failure to distinguish it from voluntary manslaughter. In the Law Commission’s view maintaining a labelling system in which voluntary and involuntary manslaughter remained grouped together under one head made no practical sense.
To this end the Law Commission commented that: “It is inappropriate that the same offence and the same label should apply to death resulting from behaviour that is little short of murder on the one hand and little more than an accident on the other hand. It presents problems both for judges who have difficulty in determining the appropriate sentence for an offence that is so widely defined and for the public in understanding why, in any given case, the judge imposed the particular sentence. ”
To this end, the Law Commission recommended that manslaughter be limited to conduct which brings about the death of another in circumstances where there: “… a risk that the conduct would cause death would have been obvious to a reasonable person in the defendant’s position, the defendant had the capacity to appreciate the risk and the defendant’s conduct fell far below what could reasonably be expected in the circumstances. ” This proposal has the potential to justify placing involuntary manslaughter and manslaughter into one group under the single head of manslaughter.
It distinguishes conduct that is calculated to bring about death (murder) and conduct that is calculated to bring about serious harm. However, the conduct must be criminal in nature and as such may aide the medical practitioner who negligently causes the death of a patient. For fair label purposes this reform is entirely necessary. To minimize the chances of a doctor facing manslaughter by gross negligence the Law Commission recommends that the risk of actual death, as opposed to the risk of serious harm must be obvious to the accused person. Conclusion Reform of the law of involuntary manslaughter is long overdue.
As it currently stands, the law of unlawful homicide is complicated and uncertain with the result that no real distinctions are made between conduct calculated to bring about death and conduct that accidentally brings about death. Conduct and intentions are not always the same, although they can bring about identical circumstances. The law relating to unlawful homicide fails to adequately make this distinction. Reformation of involuntary manslaughter will draw the line between the intention and conduct of offenders and will as a result, correspond with the principles of fair labelling. Bibliography
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