Director of Public Prosecutions v Newbury and Jones: HL 12 May 1976

The two teenage defendants pushed a stone slab from a bridge onto an oncoming train. The slab went through the window and killed the guard. They appealed convictions for manslaughter.
Held: The appeals were dismissed. An unlawful act can found a conviction for manslaughter even though the defendant did not foresee the harm. There is neither a need to show awareness that the act was unlawful, nor an intention to cause injury.
Lord Salmon said: ‘The direction which [the trial judge] gave is completely in accordance with established law, which, possibly with one exception to which I shall presently refer, has never been challenged.
I agree entirely with Lawton LJ [in Larkin] that that is an admirably clear statement of the law which has been applied many times. It makes it plain (a) that an accused is guilty of manslaughter if it is proved that he intentionally did an act which was unlawful and dangerous and that that act inadvertently caused death and (b) that it is unnecessary to prove that the accused knew that the act was unlawful or dangerous. This is one of the reasons why cases of manslaughter vary so infinitely in their gravity. They may amount to little more than pure inadvertence and sometimes to little less than murder.
I am sure that in Reg. v Church [1966] 1 QB 59 Edmund Davies J, in giving the judgment of the court, did not intend to differ from or qualify anything which had been said in Rex v Larkin, 29 Cr App R 18. Indeed he was restating the principle laid down in that case by illustrating the sense in which the word ‘dangerous’ should be understood. Edmund Davies J said, at p. 70: ‘For such a verdict’ (guilty of manslaughter) ‘inexorably to follow, the unlawful act must be such as all sober and reasonable people would inevitably recognise must subject the other person to, at least, the risk of some harm resulting therefrom, albeit not serious harm.’ The test is still the objective test. In judging whether the act was dangerous the test is not did the accused recognise that it was dangerous but would all sober and reasonable people recognise its danger.’

Diplock, Simon of Glaisdale, Kilbrandon, Salmon, Edmund-Davies LL
[1976] CLY 496, [1977] AC 500, [1976] UKHL 3
England and Wales
CitedRegina v Larkin CCA 1943
There may be involuntary manslaughter, if the accused intentionally did an act which was unlawful and dangerous and that act inadvertently caused death. Humphreys J said: ‘Where the act which a person is engaged in performing is unlawful, then if at . .

Cited by:
AppliedRegina v Goodfellow CACD 1986
The defendant had failed to get re-housed. He planned to burn down his present lodgings, rescuing the other inhabitants. Three died in his attempt. He appealed a conviction for manslaughter.
Held: The case was either an unlawful act or . .
CitedRegina v Coutts HL 19-Jul-2006
The defendant was convicted of murder. Evidence during the trial suggested a possibility of manslaughter, but neither the defence nor prosecution proposed the alternate verdict. The defendant now appealed saying that the judge had an independent . .
CitedO’Connor, Regina (On the Application of) v HM Coroner for District of Avon and Another Admn 7-May-2009
Two children died when their father jumped with them from a hotel balcony. The father had been acquitted in Crete of manslaughter after evidence of his psychiatric condition. The applicant now challenged the English coroner’s verdict of unlawful . .

Lists of cited by and citing cases may be incomplete.


Leading Case

Updated: 09 November 2021; Ref: scu.191177