Unlawful Act Manslaughter Causation Drug Dealers / Suppliers

Unlawful Act Manslaughter Causation Drug Dealers / Suppliers

Criminal Law Cases

R v Kennedy (No 2) [2007] UKHL 38

Unlawful act manslaughter – causation – drug dealers / suppliers

Kennedy prepared a syringe for the victim, who injected himself and died of an overdose. Following several earlier cases, Kennedy was convicted of unlawful act manslaughter.

However, the reasoning ignored the problem of causation. Generally speaking, where a third party acts in a free, voluntary and informed way and causes the result, this will break the chain of causation for the original defendant. The act of the victim, in injecting himself with the drug, was a free, voluntary and informed action. Kennedy was not a secondary to an unlawful act of the victim, as injecting himself was not unlawful.

The House of Lords stated the law on drug dealers and unlawful act manslaughter very clearly, and thereby resolved several years' of academic debate. The court ruled that where a drug dealer supplies drugs and the victim injects themselves and later dies, the drug dealer can never be guilty of unlawful act manslaughter, as the chain of causation is broken.

R v Evans [2009] EWCA Crim 650

Duty of care – drugs supply – gross negligence manslaughter

The victim was a drug addict. Her half-sister obtained drugs from a dealer and supplied them to the victim. The victim overdosed and died. Evans was charged and convicted of gross negligence manslaughter.

The Court of Appeal held that Evans owed a duty of care to the victim to seek help for her. The duty owed was to counteract the situation which Evans had created by supplying the drugs. The appeal against conviction was dismissed.

Where a person dies after taking drugs, the supplier cannot be guilty of unlawful act manslaughter, but can, following Evans, be guilty of gross negligence manslaughter if they fail to ‘counteract the situation' which they have ‘created'.

R v JTB [2009] UKHL 20

Defence – doli incapax – whether defence ever available to children aged between 10 and 14

Section 34 of the Crime and Disorder Act 1998 abolished the rebuttable presumption of criminal law that a child aged 10 or over is incapable of committing a criminal offence. The question for the House of Lords, when faced with a child aged 12 who had pleaded guilty to causing or inciting a child under 13 to engage in sexual activity, was whether section 34 had abolished the defence of doli incapax altogether in the case of a child aged between 10 and 14 years, or merely to abolish the presumption that the child had that defence, leaving it open to the child to prove that he was doli incapax.

The House of Lords held that the defence of doli incapax, and not merely the presumption, had been abolished completely by section 34 of the Crime and Disorder Act 1998.

R v Bree [2007] EWCA Crim 256

Sexual offences – consent – intoxication of consentee

Whether a person can consent to sexual activity when intoxicated.

Bree went to visit his brother. They went out for the evening with his brother's friends, including the complainant. They all drank a considerable amount of alcohol. The complainant remembered little about getting home, but once home remembers being sick and that Bree and his brother washed her hair. The complainant remembered nothing after this until regaining consciousness and finding Bree penetrating her sexually. The complainant agreed that she had not said ‘no', but contended that she had never consented. Bree accepted that the complainant was intoxicated but claimed that she was capable of consenting, had undressed herself and appeared willing. The jury convicted Bree of rape. Bree appealed on the basis that the judge had not made it clear that a person can consent to sexual activity even when intoxicated.

The Court of Appeal held that
“If, through drink (or for any other reason) the complainant has temporarily lost her capacity to choose whether to have intercourse on the relevant occasion, she is not consenting… However, where the complainant has voluntarily consumed even substantial quantities of alcohol, but nevertheless remains capable of choosing whether or not to have intercourse, and in drink agrees to do so, this would not be rape.” (at 34)

The Appeal was allowed.

R v EB [2006] EWCA Crim 2945

Sexual offences – consent – HIV status

Whether a person is guilty of rape if he has consensual sex with another without disclosing HIV status – is consent vitiated?

EB had sexual intercourse with the claimant. EB was HIV positive and failed to disclose this to the complainant. The question for the Court of Appeal was whether the apparent consent given by the complainant was ineffective as a result of EB's failure to disclose his status.

The Court of Appeal held that a charge of rape could not lie in these circumstances. It was held that:
“Where one party to sexual activity has a sexually transmissible disease which is not disclosed to the other party any consent that may have been given to that activity by the other party is not thereby vitiated. The act remains a consensual act.” (at 17)

However, this ruling does not mean that there is a defence to a charge resulting from harm created by the sexual activity (ie passing on HIV), but only relates to consent in sexual offences.

Cases on Automatism | Free Criminal Law Cases


Broome v Perkins [1987] Crim LR 271.

The defendant had driven eratically while suffering from hypo-glycaemia (low blood sugar level caused by an excess of insulin in the bloodstream), but was convicted of driving without due care and attention because of evidence that from time to time he had exercised conscious control over his car, veering away from other vehicles so as to avoid a collision, braking violently, and so on.

Attorney-General's Reference (No 2 of 1992) [1993] 3 WLR 982.

The defendant had driven his heavy goods vehicle into cars parked on the hard shoulder of a motorway, killing two people. He contended that he had not noticed the flashing lights of the parked vehicles because he had been in a state of automatism, referred to as "driving without awareness", induced by "repetitive visual stimulus experienced on long journeys on straight flat roads". The defence of automatism was left to the jury and the defendant was acquitted.

The Court of Appeal held that the defence of automatism should not have been left to the jury and that the state described as "driving without awareness" was not capable of founding a defence of automatism. Lord Taylor CJ said:

"As the authorities... show, the defence of automatism requires that there was a total destruction of voluntary control on the defendant's part. Impaired, reduced or partial control is not enough. Professor Brown [who gave expert evidence for the respondent] accepted that someone "driving without awareness" within his description, retains some control. He would be able to steer the vehicle and usually to react and return to full awareness when confronted by significant stimuli."


R v Quick [1973] QB 910.

The defendant, a diabetic, was in a state of hypo-glycaemia. During a blackout he injured a person. Quick collapsed after the assault and could not recall it. He had taken his insulin in the morning, but had eaten very little afterwards and had been drinking. His doctor testified that on a dozen occasions, Quick had been admitted to hospital in a semi-conscious or unconscious state, due to hypoglycaemia.

The trial judge ruled that this evidence raised the defence of insanity. The Court of Appeal quashed the defendant's conviction and conceded that there was a defence known to the law of non-insane automatism, involuntary conduct which is not brought about by a disease of the mind but through other factors. Lawton LJ considered it an affront to common sense to regard a person as mad whose symptoms can be rectified by a lump of sugar:

"A malfunctioning of the mind of transitory effect caused by the application to the body of some external factor such as violence, drugs, including anaesthetics, alcohol and hypnotic influences cannot fairly be said to be due to disease."

R v T [1990] Crim LR 256.

A few days after having been raped, the defendant was involved in an incident which led to charges of robbery and causing actual bodily harm. The defendant claimed that she was in a dream-like state. Medical evidence showed that she was suffering from Post Traumatic Stress Disorder as a result of the rape, with the consequence that she was in a Disociative State at the time of the alleged offences, not acting with a conscious mind or will.

Southan J (at Snaresbrook Crown Court) ruled that a proper foundation had been laid for the defence of automatism to go before the jury. It was his view that an incident such as rape could have an appalling effect on a young woman, however stable, and that could satisfy the requirement laid down in Quick that there had to be evidence of "an external factor" causing a malfunctioning of the mind. Post Traumatic Stress, involving as the evidence in the present case suggested, a defendant acting as though in a "dream", could therefore amount to automatism. The jury nevertheless convicted her.

R v Antoniuk (1995) The Times, 28 March.

The defendant was drowsy with drink and her lover found her unconscious on her living-room floor. The victim then hauled her to bed, her head banging on the stairs, and raped her. The defendant went to the kitchen and returned with a knife and stabbed her lover. The defendant argued that she was not responsible for her actions as she had been suffering from automatism from the shock of being raped. At Kingston Crown Court the trial judge said "If her amnesia is real, because of automatism, then she is not to be convicted". The jury found her not guilty of wounding charges.


R v Bailey [1983] 1 WLR 760.

The defendant was diabetic. He visited his ex-girlfriend's new boyfriend and whilst there felt unwell. He took a mixture of sugar and water, but ate nothing. Ten minutes later the defendant struck the victim on the head with an iron bar. The defendant later claimed to have been unable to control his actions because he had been in a hypo-glycaemic state. The defendant was charged under ss18 and 20 of the Offences Against the Person Act 1861. The trial judge directed the jury that the defence of automatism was not available to the defendant because his automatism had been self-induced, and the defendant was convicted under s18.

On appeal, the Court of Appeal held that as s18 created a specific intent crime, even self-induced automatism could be relied upon as evidence that the defendant did not have the necessary mens rea for the offence (this is consistent with the availability of self-induced intoxication). In relation to the s20 offence however, the court held that self-induced automatism would not provide a defence, where there was evidence that the defendant had been reckless in failing to eat after taking the insulin. The recklessness here would involve proof that the defendant had known that his failure to eat might make his actions more aggressive or uncontrollable. As Griffith LJ stated:

"In our judgment, self-induced automatism, other than due to intoxication from alcohol or drugs, may provide a defence to crimes of basic intent. The question in each case will be whether the prosecution have proved the necessary element of recklessness. In cases of assault, if the accused knows that his actions or inactions are likely to make him aggressive, unpredictable or uncontrolled with the result that he may cause some injury to others, and he persists in the action or takes no remedial action when he knows it is required, it will be open to the jury to find that he was reckless."

However, applying the proviso to s2(1) of the Criminal Appeals Act 1968, the appeal was dismissed: there was evidence that the defendant had taken an iron bar to the victim's house and medical evidence that such a state could not follow some five minutes after taking sugar and water. For these reasons no miscarriage of justice occurred.


R v Sandie Smith [1982] Crim LR 531.

The defendant, who had been charged with making threats to kill, sought to raise the defence of automatism based on the effects of her pre-menstrual tension. The Court of Appeal refused to recognise this as the basis for automatism because, if successful, it would result in the defendant being released into society without the courts being able to exercise any effective control over her. The evidence indicated that the defendant needed to have some medical supervision, and the court would only have the power to ensure this if she was convicted.



  • R v Quick [1973]

The defendant, a diabetic was charged with assaulting his victim. The assault occurred whilst the defendant was in a state of hypoglycaemia (low blood sugar level due to an excess of insulin). The court held that the defendant should have been acquitted on the ground of automatism. His unconscious state had been the result of external factors, ie the taking of insulin.

  • Leicester v Pearson (1952)

A car driver was prosecuted for failing to give precedence to a pedestrian on a zebra crossing, but was acquitted when it was established that his car had been pushed onto the crossing by another car hitting it from behind.


  • R v Larsonneur (1933)

The defendant was a French national who had entered the UK lawfully, but was given only limited permission to remain in the country. At the end of that period the defendant left England, not to return to France, but to travel to the Irish Free State. The Irish authorities made a deportation order against her, and she was forcibly removed from Ireland and returned to the UK. On arrival in England the defendant was charged under the Aliens Order 1920, with "being found" in the UK whilst not having permission to enter the country. The defendant was convicted, and appealed on the basis that her return to the UK had not been of her own free will, in that she had been forcibly taken to England by the immigration authorities. The Court of Appeal dismissed her appeal on the simple basis that the prosecution had proved the facts necessary for a conviction.

  • Winzar (1983)

The defendant had been admitted to hospital on a stretcher. Upon examination he was found to be drunk and was told to leave. Later he was found in a corridor of the hospital and the police were called to remove him. The police officers took the defendant outside onto the roadway, then placed him in a police car and drove him to the police station where he was charged with "being found drunk in a public highway".

The defendant was convicted, and appealed on the ground that he had not been on the public road of his own volition. The Divisional Court upheld the conviction holding that all that was required for liability was that the defendant should be perceived to be drunk whilst on a public highway. There was no need for the court to have any regard as to how he came to be there.


  • Greener v DPP (1996)

The defendant was the owner of a young, powerful Staffordshire Bull Terrier. He had left the dog chained in an enclosure in his back garden. The dog had strained and bent the clip releasing its chain. It had escaped from the enclosure and entered a nearby garden where it bit the face of a young child. Section 3(3) of the Dangerous Dogs Act 1991 provides that if the owner of a dog allows it to enter a place which is not a public place but where it is not permitted to be and while it is there it injures any person, he is guilty of an offence. It was held by the Divisional Court that an offence under s3(3) could be committed by omission. The word "allows" included taking and omitting to take a positive step. In the present case the defendant had failed to take adequate precautions. Similar precautions had been taken in the past but they were obviously inadequate as the fastening was not good enough and the enclosure not secure.

  • R v Pittwood (1902)

The defendant was employed as a gatekeeper at a railway crossing. One day he went for lunch leaving the gate open so that road traffic could cross the railway line. A hay cart crossing the line was hit by a train. One man was killed, another was seriously injured. Pittwood was convicted of manslaughter based on his failure to carry out his contractual duty to close the gate when a train approached.

  • R v Dytham (1979)

A uniformed police officer saw a man who was being kicked to death. He took no steps to intervene and drove away when it was over. He was convicted of the common law offence of misconduct in a public office as he had neglected to act to protect the victim or apprehend the victim..