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Involuntary Manslaughter

Date Produced: 30 November 2010
Title: Homicide
Offence: Involuntary manslaughter
Legislation: Offences Against the Person Act 1861 section 5
Mode of Trial: Indictable only
Statutory Limitations & Maximum Penalty: Life imprisonment
Sentencing Range: Serious specified violent offence. Schedule 15A CJA 2003 applies

Culpability and Harm

The Criminal Justice Act 2003 section 143(1) requires a court addressing seriousness to consider "... the offender's culpability in committing the offence and any harm which the offence caused, was intended to cause or might foreseeably have caused."  Lord Judge CJ observed in Attorney General's Reference (No.60 of 2009) cited below that for manslaughter, culpability may be relatively low but the harm caused is always at the highest level.

Relevant Sentencing Guidelines

The only guideline cases relate to one-punch manslaughter and motor manslaughter (see below) as opposed to involuntary manslaughter generally.

Relevant Sentencing Case Law

General application

Attorney General's Reference (No.60 of 2009); R v Appleby and others [2010] 2 Cr.App.R.(S.) 46 guideline case.
The Court of Appeal endorsed the conclusion in R v Wood [2010] 1 Cr.App.R.(S.) 2 that "Parliament's intention it seems is clear: crimes which result in death should be treated more seriously and dealt with more severely than before."  Sentences for unlawful act manslaughter should not equate with sentencing levels in Schedule 21 of the Criminal Justice Act 2003 regarding murder, but should ensure that the increased focus on the fact that the victim has died as a consequence of an unlawful act is, in accordance with legislative intention, given greater weight.

R v Boyer 3 Cr.App.R.(S.) 35
The Court of Appeal stated that sentences for involuntary manslaughter cover the widest band of sentencing for any offence.

Attorney General's References. Nos. 19, 20 and 21 of 2001 (R v Byrne, Field and Cuthbert) [2002] 1 Cr.App.R.(S.) 33.
The Court of Appeal highlighted the following factors:

1. The context in which death was caused; if particularly reprehensible conduct or conduct which called for deterrence, the court would be bound to impose a sentence longer than might otherwise be the case; examples were burglary and robbery; public concern and the need for deterrence must be reflected in the sentences passed by the courts; this would inevitably mean longer sentences than might have been considered appropriate some years ago.

2. Whether any violence of any kind was contemplated or intended by the offender.

3. The risk inherent in what was being done of really serious injury or death, and the extent to which this must have been apparent to those involved.

Manslaughter cases arising out of fights

General guidance:

Attorney General's Reference (No.60 of 2009); R v Appleby and others [2010] 2 Cr.App.R.(S.) 46 - guideline case.
Conjoined cases providing examples of cases falling outside the single punch manslaughter category.  The Court of Appeal observed that the description single punch manslaughter is misleading unless strictly confined to cases where death results from a single blow with a bare hand or fist in the circumstances described, for which R v Furby (see below) continues to provide valuable assistance.  An additional feature of manslaughter cases which has come to be seen as a serious aggravating feature is the public impact of violence on the streets, whether in city centres or in residential areas. Specific attention should be paid to the problem of gratuitous violence in city centres and streets. 

Other cases arising out of substantial fights:

R. v Fisher [2008] 2 Cr.App.R.(S.) 34
Appellants pleaded guilty to manslaughter at the close of the prosecution case during a murder trial.  The deceased was chased up a hill, knocked to the ground and surrounded by a group who kicked him and stamped on his head.  He died three days later due to external and internal bleeding resulting from fractures of the nose and skull.  Sentences of nine years imprisonment upheld.

R v Jones [2009] 1 Cr.App.R.(S) 73
Appellant, having been indicted for murder, pleaded guilty to manslaughter.  Within a block of flats, the deceased challenged the appellant to fight.  Having pulled the deceased down some stairs, the appellant kicked or stamped on him several times. The deceased died a month later due to severing of the end of the pancreas caused by a single blow to the abdomen crushing the pancreas against the spine. Sentence of six years imprisonment reduced to four years.

Single punch manslaughter cases:

R v Furby [2006] 2 Cr.App.R.(S.) 8 - guideline case
Appellant and deceased were good friends.  For a reason that the court regarded as an explicable reaction, the appellant struck a single punch of moderate force to the right cheek, the deceased collapsed to the ground and died due to a subarachnoid haemorrhage.  Appellant of good character.  Sentence reduced to 12 months imprisonment.  Case law cited confirms that if there are aggravating circumstances the sentence could be as high as four years.

Attorney General''s Ref No.64 of 2008 (Wyatt) [2009] 2 Cr. App. R. (S.) 59
Single punch manslaughter case of  unprovoked attack by offender with a record of yobbery.

See also CSP at B1-3.3A for manslaughter cases arising out of fights.

Manslaughter Cases involving use of motor vehicle

Attorney General's Reference (No.111 of 2006) (Hussain) [2007] Cr.App.R.(S.) 26 - guideline case
The offender, a taxi driver, was flagged down by the deceased and his friends during the early hours of the morning.  The deceased walked in front of the vehicle, placed his hands on the bonnet and moved backwards with the taxi, which continued to move forward slowly.  The deceased lost his footing and fell underneath the vehicle.  The offender panicked and accelerated, dragging the deceased for about a mile before he became dislodged at a roundabout.  He then drove away without stopping.  The offender felt someone under his car and heard screams.  Guilty plea to manslaughter accepted on the second day of murder trial.  The offender was aged 44 and of previous good character.  The Court of Appeal observed that the range of first instance decisions for similar offences suggested a range between four and seven years imprisonment.  Sentence increased to five years imprisonment bearing in mind double jeopardy.

See also CSP at B1-3.3J for other cases.

Other Manslaughter Castegories

Manslaughter by stabbing - see CSP at B1-3.3AA

Manslaughter involving use of a firearm - see CSP at B1-3.3B

Manslaughter in the course of burglary -see CSP at B1-3.3C

Manslaughter in the course of robbery - see CSP at B1-3.3D

Manslaughter of a young child - see CSP at B1-3.3E

Manslaughter by setting fire to buildings etc. - see CSP at B1-3.3F

Reckless manslaughter - see CSP at B1-3.3G

Manslaughter by injection of drugs - see CSP at B1-3.3H

Other forms of involuntary manslaughter - see CSP at B1-3.3I

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