Crime XXXXXI – Constructive Manslaughter X – The Unlawful Act IX

Earlier we’d asked the question in R v Dawson (1985) and R v Watson (1989), if in order for the defendant to be convicted of constructive manslaughter or unlawful act manslaughter, death needs to result from a physical injury or if it is sufficient that death results from a pre-existing medical condition. The decision in R v Carey & Ors (2006) sheds some light on the matter.

In R v Carey & Ors (2006), the victim and her friends were out for an evening walk when they stumbled across three men who started making fun of them. The men then became rowdy and soon turned violent. The victim had her hair pulled back and was punched in the face.

Afraid, she turned and ran. After running for about 100 meters she collapsed and died. The victim was suffering from a severe heart condition and the attack exacerbated the pre-existing condition and that resulted in her death.

The men were tried and convicted for affray and constructive manslaughter or unlawful act manslaughter. The defense appealed the conviction for constructive manslaughter or unlawful act manslaughter.

The conviction was quashed on appeal. The cause of death was not the physical injury or the unlawful act but rather the pre-existing medical condition.

It could be argued that the defendants did indeed cause the victim some physical injury. However, it was found that the injury was not sufficient to result in death or was not the cause of death. In order to obtain a conviction for constructive manslaughter: –

  • death must result from a physical injury and not from a pre-existing medical condition that was exacerbated or aggravated by the defendant(s) unlawful actions and
  • a reasonable person must be able to foresee or anticipate that the actions of the defendant(s) would result in the death of the victim.

In R v Dawson (1985), R v Watson (1989) and R v Carey & Ors (2006) the defendants were unaware that the victims were suffering from a pre-existing medical condition that could lead to death if aggravated and therefore the conviction for constructive manslaughter or unlawful act manslaughter was quashed.

Would the conviction have remained if the defendants were or had been aware of the victims pre-existing medical condition? It is for a court to decide but if a reasonable man could foresee that aggravating the preexisting medical condition that the victim was suffering from would lead to death then the conviction for constructive manslaughter or unlawful act manslaughter might stand.

 Copyright © 2018 by Dyarne Ward

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