Crime XXXXXVIII – Constructive Manslaughter XVII – Mens Rea II

With regards to the mental element or mens rea that needs to be satisfied in order to establish or obtain a conviction for constructive manslaughter or unlawful act manslaughter all the prosecution needs to do is to establish that there was an intention to commit an unlawful act i.e. that the defendant intended to commit the unlawful act.

There is no requirement for the defendant to foresee that some harm may result from his or her actions. Let’s revert back to the example of throwing stones through the shop window we gave earlier. It is sufficient that the defendant intended to throw stones through the shop window.

If one of the stones goes through the glass window, knocks over a lit oil lamp and subsequently starts a fire and two workers that are sleeping in the shop at the time die as a result, the defendant has satisfied the mental element or mens rea required to establish or convict for constructive manslaughter or unlawful act manslaughter regardless of the fact that the defendant could not have foreseen the result or the consequences of his or her actions.

In DPP v Newbury (1977) two teenage boys pushed a stone slab off a bridge onto an oncoming train. The stone slab went through a glass window and killed a guard. The boys were convicted of manslaughter and the defense appealed.

The appeal was dismissed. An unlawful act can form the basis for a conviction of manslaughter regardless of the fact that the defendants did not foresee death or the extent of the harm. The defendants also: –

  • Need not be aware that the act was unlawful i.e. ignorance of the law in general is no excuse though in limited circumstances it may provide a defense on a criminal charge
  • There need not be an intention to cause some form or type of physical injury.

Copyright © 2018 by Dyarne Ward

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