Legal Case Summary
R v Lamb 1967 2 QB 981
A brief introduction to the topic area
At common law, manslaughter is traditionally classified as either being voluntary or involuntary. Involuntary manslaughter refers to an unlawful homicide in circumstances where the requisite intent for murder or to cause grievous bodily harm is absent,1 but the death is either caused by an unlawful act which any reasonable person would recognise as exposing another to the risk of injury,2 a criminally negligent act or omission,3 or, where the person who causes death is reckless as to the risk of serious injury.4
The appellate judgment of R v Lamb 1967 2 QB 981 (Lamb) clarifies the requisite elements required to satisfy any of the forms of involuntary manslaughter.
Facts of the case
The defendant, Terence Walter Lamb (Lamb), was arraigned on an indictment before Glyn-Jones J and a jury, charging that he unlawfully killed Timothy O’Donaghue (O’Donaghue).
Lamb possessed a Smith & Wesson revolver, with a five-chambered cylinder. Lamb was joking with O’Donaghue, his best friend, by pointing the revolver at him whilst the cylinder contained two bullets in the chambers, neither of which were opposite the barrel. O’Donaghue likewise played along with the joke and was not concerned by the situation. Lamb then pulled the trigger, thereby rotating the cylinder clockwise, causing a bullet to be placed opposite to the barrel. The bullet was struck by the striking pin and killed O’Donaghue.
Lamb contended that he had no intention to harm O’Donaghue or an intention to fire the revolver. He claimed that the killing of O’Donaghue was a mistake because he failed to acknowledge that the chamber rotated clockwise when the trigger was pulled, and that he otherwise believed that the two bullets in the cylinder were not in the barrel.
The prosecution adduced evidence from three expert witnesses. The three experts were Mr McCafferty, a firearms expert, Mr Burr, an executive officer attached to the firearms branch of Scotland Yard, and, Police Constable Pullen.
During the course of directing the trial jury, Glyn-Jones J said, inter alia:
“if you are satisfied of that, then I direct you as a matter of law, and you must take it from me, that to use a revolver, a lethal weapon such as this revolver, in the circumstances of this case, in such a manner as in the contemplation of any ordinary man, possessed of his reason, will cause real and unnecessary risk of injury to another, is an unlawful act, whether or not it falls within any recognised category of crime”; and
“surely, to have known perfectly well that what he was doing was dangerous.”
In directing the jury, Glyn-Jones J did not refer to the defence of accident or to the need for the prosecution to disprove accident before the jury came to a conclusion that the act was wrongful.
Relevantly, the jury found Lamb guilty on both grounds of unlawful and dangerous act, and also criminal negligence. Lamb was the appeal from the judgment of Glyn-Jones J.
There were a number of issues raised in the judgment of Lamb. The most significant issues included whether the judge misdirected the jury on the meaning of an unlawful act by directing them that the use of a revolver in such a manner in subjecting O’Donaghue to a risk of harm was an unlawful act, and whether the judge misdirected the jury by directing them that an act must be dangerous if an ordinary man contemplates some danger arising from the act.
Other issues included whether the judge misdirected the jury on the meaning of reckless, whether the judge misdirected the jury on the law of manslaughter, and the propriety of removing the defence of accidental killing from the jury’s consideration.
The decision / outcome of the case
The judgment of Lamb, having regard to the judgments of Andrews v Director of Public Prosecutions5 (Andrews) and R v Church,6 (Church) held that because mens rea was an essential element to assault, involuntary manslaughter on the ground of an unlawful and dangerous act could not be established on the facts except by proving the element of intention in regards to the (technical) assault, such that Lamb’s conduct was unlawful.7 Specifically, Sachs LJ, Lyell and Geoffrey Lane, stated that it is “the correct view that for the act to be unlawful it must constitute at least a technical assault.”8
The judgment also held that Lamb was not afforded the right of having his defence of accident considered by the jury, and further, that the misdirection with respect to an unlawful and dangerous act referred to above, also tainted that regarding involuntary manslaughter by criminal negligence.9 In this regard the judgment stated that:
“taken by themselves the directions on law were substantially correct, but this court would in any event have to proceed with caution when asked to uphold the verdict when so much of the first part of the summing-up was vitiated by misdirections. All the more so when the jury have been told that the two grounds for their consideration overlapped.” 10
Having said that, the judgment also made reference to deficiencies in the summing-up relating to criminal negligence such as an omission of reference to the experts.11
The impact of the outcome on the topic area as a whole
Lamb considered the judgment of R v Franklin12 in supporting the contention that a civil liability will not constitute an unlawful act.13 In this regard, the judgments of Andrews and Church were referred to in Lamb with respect to the necessity of mens rea in order for an act to be unlawful and thus constitute involuntary manslaughter by an unlawful and dangerous act. Further still, Lamb acknowledged the observation in Church that the relevant unlawful and dangerous act must be one that a sober and reasonable person would recognise poses a risk of some harm to the other individual.
As Lamb provides a definitive outline of principles for a narrow matter, the judgment has only been applied on two occasions, Pacino v R14 and R v Haywood.15 Having said that, Lamb has also been distinguished on two occasions, Taylor v R16 and R v Lipman,17 (Lipman) and cited in many other decisions. The judgment of Lipman distinguished Lamb on the basis that intent as such is not a necessary ingredient of manslaughter18 such that specific intent is not necessarily needed in circumstances where the defendant was under the influence of self-induced L.S.D.19
1R v Taylor (1834) 2 Lew CC 215.
2R v Inner South London Coroner, ex p Douglas-Williams  1 All ER 344 at 350, CA, per Lord Woolf MR; R v Church  1 QB 59 at 70; R v Ball  Crim LR 730, CA.
3R v Adomako  1 AC 171.
4R v Lidar  4 Archbold News 3, CA.
5 AC 576.
6 1 QB 59.
7R v Lamb  2 QB 981, 988.
12(1883) 15 Cox CC 163.
13Russell on Crime, 11th ed. (1958), pp. 651-658.
14(1998) 105 A Crim R.
15 VR 755.
16(1983) 9 A Crim 358.
17 1 QB 152.
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