Crime XXXXXXVII – Involuntary Manslaughter XIII

A defendant can be charged with gross negligence manslaughter if he or she omits to do something that ought to be done especially if there is a common law duty or a statutory duty that compels him or her to do so.

Hence gross negligence manslaughter is an offence that can be committed by doing something that the defendant ought not to do or failing to do something that the defendant ought to do i.e. commission or omission.

In R v Hood (2003) the defendant failed to take his sick wife to a doctor and failed to bring her illness to the attention of trained medical professionals. He allowed his wife to languish for three weeks before he called for an ambulance. His wife died in the hospital. The husband was charged with murder and acquitted. He was convicted instead of gross negligence manslaughter.

Whether the action of the defendant(s) amounts to an omission or otherwise is for a jury to decide.

In R v Woods and Hodgson, the defendants carelessly left some ecstasy tablets in a cigarette packet. One of the neighbor’s children, a ten-year-old child, was in the habit of going around and playing with the defendants’ baby. The child somehow got a hold of the cigarette packet and swallowed some of the tablets. The defendants’ failed to call an ambulance for about an hour and a half and as a result the child died.

The defendants were charged with gross negligence manslaughter by way omission but were found to be not guilty by a jury.

In R v Willoughby (2004) the defendant, a pub owner was in debt and unable to make enough money to cover his debts, he employed the deceased to set fire to his pub so that he could claim the insurance payout. As agreed the deceased went around to set fire to the pub but while he was doing so there was an explosion and he died as a result. The defendant was charged and convicted of manslaughter. The defense appealed on the grounds that the defendant did not owe the victim a duty of care.

The appeal was dismissed. It was held that once the judge has decided that there is enough evidence to establish a duty of care, whether a duty or care exists or otherwise is for a jury to decide and the jury having so decided, the conviction must stand.

Copyright © 2018 by Dyarne Ward

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