For the purposes of unlawful act manslaughter, an objective test is applied in order to determine whether an unlawful act was dangerous
On the 10th of June 2013, the appellants JF, (a 14 year old boy) and NE, (a 16 year old girl), and two other young people, AL and MM visited a derelict building. They set fire to a discarded duvet, which caused a fire and killed a homeless man who had been in the building. JF and NE were arrested and charged with manslaughter, through an unlawful and dangerous act, and arson being reckless as to whether life was endangered.
They were convicted of manslaughter and the lesser offence of simple arson. They appealed against the conviction for manslaughter and against the sentence; this note focuses on the appeal against conviction only.
The appellants submitted:
That the objective test regarding dangerousness of their act should have been subjective to the extent it took into account what was foreseeable for a person of similar age to the appellants, and it should have taken into account the mental capacity of the first appellant, JF. JF had a low IQ and limited reasoning abilities. JF said that he had known that people had slept in the building, but he did not think that anyone was there at the time of the fire.
That their acquittal of arson being reckless as to whether life was endangered showed that the jury found that they did not have a subjective understanding of the risk of harm to any person.
1) The court ruled that in determining whether the act was dangerous the test is an objective one. In applying that test the knowledge of the circumstances attributed to the bystander are the circumstances known to the defendant R. v Watson (Clarence Archibald)  1 W.L.R. 684, but the test is not subjective. The judge had properly directed the jury on these points and there had been no misdirection in relation to the long-established law.
2) The judge's direction that the jury had to be sure that the appellants either intended the damage to the building or were subjectively reckless about it was correct. This was all that was required. The appellants needed the mens rea of the unlawful act, but that was all. The extra direction that the prosecution also had to prove that the appellant had, at the time of the setting of the fire, foreseen or contemplated the possibility that some persons might be in the building was not necessary, but there was no misdirection adverse to the appellants. The jury's verdicts were not inconsistent.
The Court declined the invitation to consider whether this area of law should be reconsidered and stated it must be for Parliament to consider whether this long-established area of law needs changing in light of the Law Commission's various recommendations.
The appeal was dismissed.
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