R v Lowe [1973] QB 702

The connection between “wilful neglect” under s.1(1) of the Children and Young Persons Act 1933 and manslaughter by negligence


Mr Lowe, of low intelligence, did not call a doctor to his sick infant child. The child died from dehydration and gross emaciation. Mr Lowe was convicted of manslaughter by negligence and wilfully neglecting a child so as to cause unnecessary suffering or injury to health under s.1(1) of the Children and Young Persons Act 1933. The defendant appealed.


The jury convicted Mr Lowe based on a direction by the judge that manslaughter is a necessary consequence of a conviction of wilful neglect under s.1(1) of CAYPA 1933 if that neglect caused the victim’s death. The jury specified that it had found that the defendant was not reckless (the mens rea element of manslaughter) and that it was, therefore, not his recklessness that caused the child’s death. Mr Lowe argued that the jury had been misdirected about the necessary elements of manslaughter and that “wilful neglect” involved proof that he intended the consequences of the neglect.


Under s.1(1) of CAYPA 1933 “wilful neglect” means that the neglect was deliberate and not merely inadvertent. Although the defendant may not have been able to foresee the consequences of not calling a doctor, this failure was deliberate nevertheless. His conviction under CAYPA 1933 was therefore proper. As to manslaughter by negligence, Mr Lowe was expressly found by the jury not to have been reckless. Consequently, his omission, which was wilful only to the extent of not being inadvertent, should not have inevitably led to a conviction for manslaughter, even though it caused his child’s death. Overall, the jury had indeed been misdirected, as a result of which Mr Lowe’s conviction for manslaughter could not stand.