R v Dawson (1985) 81 Cr App R 150

Unlawful Act Manslaughter – Dangerousness – Egg-Shell Skull Rule - Causation


The defendant approached a petrol station manned by a 50 year old male.  The defendants attempted a robbery with an imitation gun and a pick-axe handle.   The defendants demanded money but did not touch the attendant who pressed the alarm button and the defendants ran away without obtaining any cash.   The petrol station attendant, who unknown to the defendants had a pre-existing heart condition suffered a heart attack and died.  The defendant was charged with and convicted of unlawful act manslaughter and appealed.


Was the defendant’s act foreseeably dangerous so as to constitute the second element of unlawful act manslaughter?  Did the defendants realise that their acts would be likely to cause physical harm?  Did the defendants have to have knowledge of the victims medical condition for them to realise that their act was likely to be dangerous?


The defendant’s appeal was allowed.  The trial judge’s direction to the jury was a misdirection.  The question that the jury should have been asked was whether a reasonable person would have realised that their actions were likely to create the risk of physical injury.  An unlawful act must also be dangerous and the defendant’s must have reasonably foreseen that this would be dangerous.  If the defendant’s had knowledge that the victim had a heart condition then they may have been cognisant of the fact that their actions were likely to create a risk of physical harm.  As they did not, a reasonable person would not judge that the act was in itself dangerous.