Crime XXXXX – Constructive Manslaughter IX– The Unlawful Act VIII

In R v Watson (1989) the defendant threw a brick through the glass window of the victim’s home. The victim was aged and elderly and seriously ill at the time. The defendant unaware of the victim’s condition entered the house and stumbled across the victim.

The defendant was in the house for about 90 minutes during which time the victim was verbally abused. Once the defendant had left the house, the victim collapsed and died. The defendant was charged with burglary under section s.9 (1) (a) of the Theft Act 1968.

S 9 of the theft act defines burglary and reads as follows:-

 (1)A person is guilty of burglary if—

(a)he enters any building or part of a building as a trespasser and with intent to commit any such offence as is mentioned in subsection (2) below; or

(b)having entered any building or part of a building as a trespasser he steals or attempts to steal anything in the building or that part of it or inflicts or attempts to inflict on any person therein any grievous bodily harm.

(2)The offences referred to in subsection (1)(a) above are offences of stealing anything in the building or part of a building in question, of inflicting on any person therein any grievous bodily harm … therein, and of doing unlawful damage to the building or anything therein.

(3)A person guilty of burglary shall on conviction on indictment be liable to imprisonment for a term not exceeding—

(a)where the offence was committed in respect of a building or part of a building which is a dwelling, fourteen years;

(b)in any other case, ten years.

(4)References in subsections (1) and (2) above to a building, and the reference in subsection (3) above to a building which is a dwelling, shall apply also to an inhabited vehicle or vessel, and shall apply to any such vehicle or vessel at times when the person having a habitation in it is not there as well as at times when he is.

The defendant was also convicted for constructive manslaughter or unlawful act manslaughter. The defendant appealed.

The conviction for constructive manslaughter or unlawful act manslaughter was quashed on the grounds of a misdirection. The issue was raised after the jury had retired and the defendant was not given the opportunity to address the issue.

Had the defendant been given the opportunity to address the issue would the conviction have stood or would it have been deemed sound?

1) Could a reasonable person have gauged the victim’s age just by looking at him and having done so would he have verbally abused him? It is not unreasonable to say with some degree of certainty that most elderly people would suffer from some sickness or other. The older the person the higher the chances that he or she is suffering from some sort of an illness that if aggravated could prove fatal.

2) Should the thin skull rule apply i.e. should the defendant take the victim as he or she finds them?

3) It is also worth pointing out that death, like in R v Dawson (1985), did not result from a physical injury but from a pre-existing medical condition.

4) The defendant had already been tried and convicted of one offence and an additional conviction for constructive manslaughter would only serve to lengthen the sentence but we have to keep in mind that sentences can either run concurrently i.e. two sentences can run together at the same time or consecutively i.e. one after the other.

Copyright © 2018 by Dyarne Ward

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