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There are two issues that need to be discussed in relation to the unlawful act of manslaughter(UAM). One of which is Keith’s liability for the death of Kurt and Janis, to whom he had prepared the doses of heroin for. Which resulted in their death via drug overdose. The second issue that needs to be discussed is the liability of Ginger (Keith’s friend) who went on to confront Lenny a sixty-year-old man with a heart condition who is the provider of the heroin. Ginger becomes enraged and slams his fist on the table, Lenny had a heart attack and died. Therefore, there are the deaths of three individuals that need to be considered and the criminal liability of the two defendants.

When considering the first issue regarding Keith there are two separate deaths to consider. And should be broken down into two separate problems. Regarding Kurt’s death, Keith cannot be held liable in relation to UAM as Keith was not the one who administered the drug rather it was self-administered by Kurt, in addition to this Keith did not have any intention to cause harm to Kurt, although Keith did commit an unlawful act of preparing and supplying the heroin to Kurt, who then willingly self-administered the heroin. According to the case R V Kennedy, where the defendant was convicted for involuntary manslaughter because of supplying class A drugs to the victim who then injected himself with it and died, however, the case was appealed, and the committee stated, ‘The appellant supplied the drug to the deceased, who then had a choice, knowing the facts, whether to inject himself or not.’1 Therefore the defendant cannot be considered liable for UAM as the committee furthers goes on to say ‘The appellant did not administer the drug. Nor, for reasons already given, did the appellant cause the drug to be administered to or taken by the deceased.’2  This suggests that the prosecution cannot show that the four required elements of UAM which are highlighted in the DPP V Newbury and Jones 1976 case are not evident, this point is also supported by the R v Dias case which held ‘Whilst possession of the heroin was an unlawful act there was no direct causation.’3 For this reason, Keith cannot be held liable for UAM when considering the death of Kurt since Kurt was an adult of sound mind and took it upon himself to administer the heroin and therefore breaks the legal causation. This is because the actual act of Kurt taking the heroin is a Novus Actus Interveniens and, that is what resulted in the death. So, when considering the criminal liability of Keith regarding the death of Kurt, Keith cannot be found liable for UAM.

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When considering the second problem, regarding the death of Janis. Whom Keith helped administer the injection of heroin, Keith will be held liable for UAM. This is because UAM is considered as involuntary manslaughter and, when considering an individual’s criminal liability of involuntary manslaughter, the Mens Rea does not need to be present as the only requirement is the actus reas which is present in the case of Janis’s death, and can be identified through the chain of causation. It is made clear that Keith was the one who supplied the heroin to Janis in addition to this Keith was also the one who prepared and injected the heroin into Janis which lead to her death. Therefore, the act of injecting the heroin into Janis is clearly the actus reas that is enough to hold Keith liable of involuntary manslaughter. Furthermore, since the act of injecting heroin is unlawful, Keith can be considered liable for UAM. Although Keith did not have any intention harm to Janis. According to Lord Salmon who has explained that ‘a defendant was guilty of manslaughter if it was proved that he intentionally did an act which was unlawful and dangerous, and that act caused death’ lord salmon further goes onto explain that ‘it was unnecessary that the defendant had known that the act in question was unlawful or dangerous.’4 Therefore lord salmons view would suggest that Keith should be considered liable for UAM as Keith did commit a dangerous and unlawful act that resulted in the death of Janis, regardless of the fact that he did not intend for the final outcome to be Janis’s death, as the actus reas of injecting the heroin into Janis is what caused her death, it is enough to hold Keith liable for UAM. In addition to this Edmund Davies LJ states, ‘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 harm.’ 5 This further suggests that Keith is liable for UAM as any reasonable individual would have recognised that it is dangerous to inject heroin into another person and that it can cause harm, whereas Keith failed to do so and therefore should be considered liable for UAM.

In relation to the second issue regarding Ginger and the death of Lenny, Ginger should not be considered liable for UAM. This is because there is no evidence to indicate that Ginger had any prior knowledge of Lenny’s condition. Therefore, when determining the criminal liability of Ginger the ‘reasonable man’ test should be applied, and according to Watkins LJ who stated that ‘the reasonable man should have the same knowledge as the man attempting to rob and no more.’6 This principle is highlighted in the 1985 R v Dawson case where the defendants attempted to rob a petrol station with fake weapons, which caused the sixty-year-old attendant who had a heart disease to have a heart attack and die. The Court of Appeals quashed their convictions and held that the defendants could not be guilty because the victims heart condition would not have been obvious to the reasonable person if they had been at the scene.7 Furthermore when considering the four required elements of UAM, Ginger cannot be considered liable as Ginger did not commit any offence that breaks the law during his confrontation with Lenny. In addition to this there is nothing to suggest that Ginger had any intention to cause harm to Lenny and, In the view of a reasonable person Ginger slamming his fist on a table cannot be considered a dangerous act. Since three out four elements that are required to hold an individual liable for UAM have not been met, because of this, Ginger cannot be held liable for the death of Lenny. Furthermore it cannot be proven that ginger slamming his fist against the table is the factual cause of Lenny’s death, as this premise can be explained by the ‘but for’ test this is because Lenny was already suffering from a heart condition and therefore he could have suffered from a heart attack at any given time therefore, the Ginger cannot be considered to have caused the victim to have a heart attack. Subsequently it cannot be proved that Ginger has the Actus Reas of the offence and therefore will not be held liable for UAM.

To summarise, only one of the two defendants, Keith, should be considered liable for UAM although Keith was involved with the death of two individuals he only committed the actus reas for one of the deaths (Janis) as he physically injected the heroin into her, in contrast to only supplying the heroin to Kurt who then willingly injected himself, due to this the chain of causation was broken and therefore Keith can only be held liable for the death of Janis and not Kurt. Ginger on the other hand will not be considered liable for the death of Lenny, as one must consider the reasonable man would also not have known of Lenny’s heart condition and therefore the consequence would not have been foreseeable and therefore Ginger cannot be held liable. To conclude this assignment, there are many issues that arise in relation to involuntary manslaughter this has been highlighted in the 2004 law commission report which states that reforms need to be made, as some argue that the objective nature of sentencing someone for involuntary manslaughter is flawed, as it does not account for the defendant awareness of the unlawful act being dangerous enough to cause the victim to die, for example, for Keith it is normal to take heroin and in his mind it is not seen as a dangerous act. Therefore, when considering an individual’s liability for unlawful act manslaughter a more subjective analysis of the circumstance should be considered, thus providing a fairer solution.




3 R v Dias 2002 2 Cr App R 5 Court of Appeal

4 DPP v Newbury and Jones 1976 AC 500

5 R v Church 1965 2 WLR 1220

6 Criminal law, 4th edition- Nicola Monaghan- chapter 6, p140

7 R v Dawson 1985


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