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Manslaughter - gross negligence manslaughter - the actus reus

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Actus reus of Gross Negligence Manslaughter.

Involuntary manslaughter by gross negligence requires a breach of duty which causes death

The essential elements are:

(1) existence of the duty;

(2) breach of the duty causing death; and

(3) gross negligence which jury considers justifies criminal conviction,

(4) the gross negligence was a substantial cause of the death (see the indictment in R v Litchfield (1998))


See R v Adomako [1994] HL which overruled R v Seymour

Who can be liable for a death?

In R v Bennett (1858) D had unlawfully kept in his house a quantity of fireworks, which, through the negligence of his employees, were set on fire, and thus caused the death of the deceased, and it was held that the accused could not be convicted of manslaughter, it was held that D is not responsible criminally if the death was directly caused in his absence by the negligence of his employees or others.


It is no defence that the death was caused by the negligence of others as well as of the accused; if death is occasioned by the act or default of several, they are all guilty of manslaughter
R v Benge (1865)
R v Gibbins and Proctor (1918) (convicted of murder)
R v Stone & Dobinson [1977] CA.


The particular negligence imputed to the accused must, however, have been a substantial cause of the death

Several persons in pursuit of a common purpose may be guilty of negligence and so guilty of manslaughter even if only one of their number commits the actual negligent act.  Although, normally the law seeks liability in one person, R (on the application of Bodycote HIP Ltd) v County of Herefordshire Coroner [2008] QBD.


Can be a wilful act or omission

Unlike Unlawful Act manslaughter, which cannot be committed by an omission, Gross Negligence manslaughter can be committed by either an act or an omission.


The existence of a duty of care

The ordinary principles of the law of negligence apply as in the definition of "duty of care"

Lord Atkin in Donoghue v Stevenson [1932].

Duty of care extends to a person upon whom the law imposes a duty of care or who has taken upon himself a duty, to preserve life

D is liable where that duty exists or has been undertaken and D, regardless of the life, safety, welfare and health of others, neglects to perform that duty or performs it negligently and thereby causes the death of another person.

For example
R v Pittwood (1902)
R v Stone & Dobinson [1977].

Duty of care can be Dr/patient


Manager of property/tenant


Master of sailing ship/crew



A duty of care has been held to apply to a doctor towards his patient Adomako (1994)


a manager and maintainer of property where there was a faulty gas fire Singh (1999)


the owner and master of a sailing ship to the crew Litchfield (l998)

Duty to summon medical assistance

In Khan (1998) a duty situation was held to include a duty to summon medical assistance in some situations.

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