In English law there are 2 types of manslaughter, and each of those has 3 subdivisions.
- mens rea is same as for murder, but defendant has a special partial defence which reduces the charge to one of manslaughter. These defences are:
- Diminished responsibility (an abnormality which impairs the defendant's mental responsibility for his own acts). Defence to murder, reduces charge to one of manslaughter.
- Provocation - Defence to murder, reduces charge to one of manslaughter - loss of self control as a result of provocation - sudden and temporary - does not have to be complete - longer the time between provocation and act of killing, less likely provocation defence is to succeed.
- Suicide pact - S.4(1) Homicide Act 1957 - where one party to a suicide pact kills another party to that pact or is party to that killing, it shall be manslaughter not murder.
As you can see, where the manslaughter is voluntary (done knowingly) the mens rea is as for murder, but a partial defence reduces the charge.
The other type is involuntary manslaughter, which again has 3 subdivisions.
- An unlawful act is committed, a there must be an act committed. Constructive manslaughter cannot be committed by omission (failing to do something). The unlawful act cannot be merely a civil wrong. The act must be dangerous when tested objectively. The dangerous act need not be aimed at a person, it would suffice it was aimed at property (eg criminal damage). Risk of harm must be real - mere fear of it, even if they cause the victim to have a heart attack (R v Dawson 1985), are not sufficient.
- Defendant must have the mens rea for the unlawful act he committed, though he need not have realised that it was a dangerous act.
Gross negligence manslaughter
- Lawful act or omission performed in a negligent way.
- Defendant must owe the victim a duty of care. This could be a doctor owing a duty of care to a patient, who dies because of his negligent act or omission, or a landlord who has a duty to maintain property, then his tenant dies because, for example, the gas system flue is poorly maintained.
- There are 5 main types of duty owed which can give rise to manslaughter in this way:
- Contractual duty - R v Pittwood(1902) - negligence in performance of a contractual duty leading to death of someone = manslaughter.
- Duty by relationship - R v Gibbins & Proctor (1918) - parent of child who died of malnutrition - manslaughter. (cannot be murder, because murder cannot be by omission, eg by NOT feeding someone, it needs a positive act.)
- A duty undertaken voluntarily - eg, volunteering to care for elderly relative - R v Stone & Dobinson (1977) - failure to get help for helpless elderly relative = manslaughter.
- Duty from official position - R v Dytham (1979) - off duty policeman witnessed violent assault and ignored it.
- Duty which defendant has created by his own actions - R v Miller (1983) - Squatter accidentally started a fire. Left the room and made no attempt to extinguish it or summon help.
Note that not ALL the cases stated above led to manslaughter convictions (some did). They all led to a conviction for something, but their point is to demonstrate what duties of care are recognised by English common law, and show that they can lead to convictions. The possibility exists that all of those could lead to a manslaughter conviction if the result is death but there is no actus reus for murder (as murder cannot be committed by omission) or that the mens rea is negligence rather than malice.
The negligence in itself constitutes the mens rea for the offence.
- Committed by act or by omission
- Defendant is indifferent to an obvious danger or risk, or was aware of it but took the risk anyway.
- This type of manslaughter MAY possibly only exist in "motor" cases - R v Adomako (1994).
Should also add one final type I did not mention. Corporate manslaughter. Sometimes a crime can be committed by a company rather than an individual. Of course you cannot send a company to prison, so convicting a company can be unsatisfactory for victims' relatives. Many corporate manslaughter cases have failed to convict any individuals in the past. Suppose a train crashes, or a ferry sinks, because of the negligence of an employee. The problem was in common law, you needed to get someone high up the company chain of command in the dock, and big companies generally got away with it. The Corporate Manslaughter and Corporate Homicide Act 2007 abolishes the common law offence of gross negligence manslaughter (where it is committed by a corporation rather than an individual) and attempts to make it easier to prosecute. In reality, deaths caused by corporations are still often treated merely as health and safety breaches.