R v Franklin (1883) 15 Cox CC 163

Manslaughter caused by an unlawful act and criminal negligence


Mr Franklin took up a larger box from Brighton Pier and threw it into the sea. The victim was swimming underneath in the sea at the time and was struck by the box and died.


Relying on the case of R v Fenton (1830) 1 Lew CC 179, the prosecution argued that, independent of the question of negligence, in order to find manslaughter, it should be sufficient to show that the defendant did an unlawful act which he can neither justify nor excuse. The act committed by the defendant in Fenton was trespass and thus wrongful. In the prosecution’s view, the question should be whether the victim’s death could be “fairly and reasonably” considered to be the result of this wrongful act.


The jury had to consider the case within the framework of negligence and not upon the narrow ground proposed by the prosecution, i.e. death caused by a (civil) wrongful act. Simply because a civil wrong was committed, it ought not to be used as a necessary step in a criminal case.The case of R v Fenton was not binding on the Court as the circumstances of the present case were different. Mr Franklin was found guilty of manslaughter based on the principles of criminal negligence.