Reform of the Law of Involuntary Manslaughter

For clarity, Smith and Hogan characterizes involuntary manslaughter as follows: • Reckless manslaughter: Circumstances in which an individual causes another’s death, largely unaware of the risk of harm associated with the conduct. • Negligent manslaughter: Death as a result of gross carelessness where the offender cannot or does not appreciate the risk of harm associated with his or her conduct. • Unlawful manslaughter: An individual causes death by virtue of either unlawful or dangerous conduct.

It is obvious from the above characterization of involuntary manslaughter that a cohesive and straightforward definition is sorely lacking. Moreover, the current landscape of involuntary manslaughter offers very little in the way of distinguishing accidental death from intentionally causing the death of another. This is particularly so with unlawful manslaughter where all that is required is evidence that an unlawful or dangerous act caused the death of another. Committing armed robbery is an unlawful and dangerous act and could lead to a charge of murder.

Likewise, driving over the speed limit is an unlawful and dangerous act which can invariably give rise to vehicular manslaughter. Be that as it may, the dividing line between the mental element for manslaughter and murder remains blurred. The Law Commission made recommendations for reformation of the law relating to involuntary manslaughter earlier on. In its Draft Criminal Code the Law Commission proposed the abrogation of all forms of involuntary manslaughter and substituting them with the following:

“A person is guilty of manslaughter if he causes the death of another – (i) Intending to cause serious personal harm; or (ii) Being reckless whether death or serious harm will be caused. ” Encapsulated in these recommendations is a distinction between murder and manslaughter. Murder requires a specific intent to cause the death of another as well as foresight that death or serious harm was a virtual certainty. Under the Law Commission’s Draft Criminal Code, manslaughter would flow from the intent to cause serious harm.

There is obviously a need for a sharper distinction between murder and manslaughter. In fact it was even argued by the Law Commission that murder itself be categorised so as to reflect different levels of culpability. A failure to make the distinction in both murder and manslaughter cases compromises fair labelling principles. Moreover, there is a distinction between the various kinds of conduct that can cause serious harm or deat.