What Counts as Involuntary Manslaughter?

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What Counts as Involuntary Manslaughter?

In the United Kingdom, manslaughter is a serious criminal offence that involves unlawfully causing the death of another person.​ ​

There are two main categories of manslaughter: voluntary and involuntary manslaughter. But what exactly counts as involuntary manslaughter? What should you expect from involuntary manslaughter court cases?​ ​

That’s what we'll explore in this blog post. Read on to learn more about manslaughter charges​ ​ and what counts as involuntary manslaughter.


What is Manslaughter?​ ​

The key aspect of manslaughter is that the person responsible for the death did not mean to take another person's life. Unlike murder, there is no intention to cause death.

Manslaughter is a criminal offence, meaning a person found guilty of manslaughter may face penalties like imprisonment. The exact consequences can vary based on the circumstances and severity of the case.

To establish manslaughter, the prosecution must demonstrate the accused's actions or omissions substantially caused the victim's death. There must be a direct link between the conduct and the fatality.

In the UK, there are different degrees or categories of manslaughter, depending on the specific circumstances. For instance, criminal negligence manslaughter involves extreme carelessness that leads to a fatality, while constructive manslaughter happens during the commission of an unlawful act.

Like other crimes, a person accused of a manslaughter offence can raise legal defences. Common defences may include self-defence, where a person acted to protect themselves or others from harm, or diminished responsibility, which acknowledges that a person's mental state may have contributed to their actions.


What is Voluntary Manslaughter?

Voluntary manslaughter occurs when one person kills another in the heat of the moment, often due to strong emotions like anger, fear or provocation.

It's not premeditated but is still an unlawful killing. Unlike murder, voluntary manslaughter involves a "loss of control" or "diminished responsibility".

Loss of control means the person reacts to a serious situation uncontrollably. Diminished responsibility means a person has a mental health issue that affects their responsibility.

Courts consider these factors when determining if the accused should face murder or voluntary manslaughter charges. Penalties for voluntary murder can vary in the UK - but generally, it carries a significant prison term.


What is Involuntary Manslaughter?

Also called "reckless manslaughter", involuntary manslaughter involves causing someone's death due to negligence, carelessness, or recklessness. There is no intent, but the person's actions or failure to prevent harm results in a death.

Examples include unintentionally causing the death of another person by:

  • Driving under the influence
  • Texting while driving​ ​
  • Committing arson

Involuntary manslaughter involves a grossly negligent, unlawful or dangerous act that causes the death of a person, but crucially lacks intent. This is what separates a manslaughter charge from a murder charge. Other elements of the offence are similar to murder.

There are two types of involuntary manslaughter - constructive manslaughter and gross negligence manslaughter.​ ​


Constructive Manslaughter

Constructive manslaughter, also known as unlawful act manslaughter, occurs when someone dies during the defendant's commission of an unlawful act.​ ​

First of all, constructive manslaughter must involve an unlawful act - the defendant must have committed an unlawful act that led to somebody’s death. This could range from minor criminal offences to more serious crimes.
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The unlawful act must be a significant cause of the victim's death - the victim would likely still be alive if not for the unlawful act.

The law uses an objective test, meaning it doesn't matter whether the defendant intended to harm anyone. If a reasonable person could foresee potential harm from their actions, they can be liable. The defendant must possess the mental element (mens rea) for the unlawful act.

​​Gross Negligence Manslaughter​ ​

Unlike constructive manslaughter, gross negligence manslaughter doesn’t involve an unlawful act. Instead, it stems from gross negligence, which is the opposite of acting with reasonable care.

In gross negligence manslaughter, the defendant must owe the victim a duty of care, often when responsible for another's safety like a doctor treating a patient.

The defendant must have breached this duty of care in such a grossly negligent manner that it led to the victim's death. The negligence must be far beyond what is reasonable or acceptable.

As with constructive manslaughter, there must be a direct link between the defendant's negligence and the victim's death. The defendant must have exhibited a very high degree of negligence to be convicted of gross negligence manslaughter.


What to Expect From an Involuntary Manslaughter Charge

In the UK, an involuntary manslaughter charge is a serious crime. It's important to understand what to expect if you or someone you know is facing such a charge.

When a defendant is charged with involuntary manslaughter, it means they are accused of unintentionally causing someone's death. This charge typically arises from accidents or incidents where the defendant's reckless actions led to a death.

Manslaughter cases are tried in court and defendants have the right to legal representation by solicitors. The prosecution presents evidence establishing involvement in the death.

Criminal trials often involve a jury. The jury decides whether the defendant is guilty or not guilty, whilst remaining fair and just. In the UK, the justice system places a strong emphasis on the principle that a person is innocent until proven guilty beyond a reasonable doubt.

If convicted of involuntary manslaughter, the defendant can face significant penalties, including imprisonment. Sentencing guidelines depend on the circumstances of the case and the defendant's level of recklessness. The maximum sentence a judge can impose is life imprisonment.​ ​

It's essential to consult solicitors to ensure fair and just legal proceedings. This is something we can help with at Bell Lamb & Joynson.

Our criminal law solicitors can be by your side throughout the process. If you or someone you know has been arrested for manslaughter, we can provide you with the advice and support you need.

We are available 24 hours a day, 365 days a year. Trust our legal experts to help you avoid criminal charges, achieve a ‘not guilty’ verdict, or receive a reduced sentence than you originally faced.