DPP v Newbury and Jones [1977]

DPP v Newbury and Jones [1977]

In DPP v Newbury and Jones [1977] AC 500, [1977] Crim LR 359, the House of Lords considered the application of the objective test in constructive manslaughter cases, specifically whether the unlawful act would likely cause harm.

The facts involved two 15-year-old defendants who pushed a paving stone from a bridge, which resulted in the death of a railway guard. The defendants were convicted of constructive manslaughter, but they appealed on the grounds that they did not foresee the danger of their actions.

The House of Lords dismissed the appeal, emphasising that in constructive manslaughter, the test for whether the unlawful act is likely to cause harm is objective. Lord Salmon, delivering the judgment, stated:

"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."

This ruling clarified that in cases of constructive manslaughter, it is not necessary to prove the defendant's subjective foresight of the danger. The focus is on whether a sober and reasonable person would recognise the danger inherent in the unlawful act.

It is noteworthy that in a later case, R v Goodfellow [1986], the court suggested that the unlawful act in DPP v Newbury and Jones could be considered reckless criminal damage, implying that the defendants did have the mens rea for an unlawful act even if they did not foresee harm to another. This illustrates the flexibility in interpreting the nature of the unlawful act in constructive manslaughter cases.
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