R v Williams; R v Davis [1992] 2 All ER 183

Directions on evidence and causation in manslaughter by an unlawful act (joint enterprise)


The victim was a hitchhiker picked up by Mr Williams; Mr Davis and Mr Bobat were passengers in the car. After a few miles, the victim jumped out of the moving car and suffered fatal injuries. Mr Williams and Mr Davis were convicted of manslaughter and robbery after the jury accepted that they robbed the victim (as pre-planned) and threatened him with physical violence as a result of which he jumped out of the car; Mr Bobat was acquitted. Messrs Williams and Davis appealed.


The judge directed the jury that statements to the police could only be used against the maker of the statement, but Mr Williams argued that the evidence was too tenuous to go before the jury, and that his conviction was inconsistent with Mr Bobat’s acquittal. Mr Davis claimed that the judge should have accepted a submission of no case to answer; that his conviction was based on Mr Bobat’s statement to the police and that evidence of the mere presence of a knife and stick in the car should not have been admitted.


Firstly, the evidence shown in order to prove the presence of a joint enterprise to rob the victim applied equally against all defendants and thus the conviction of Messrs Williams and Davis was indeed inconsistent with Mr Bobat’s acquittal. It follows that that the jury must have used the defendants’ statements to the police against other defendants, despite the judge’s direction to the contrary. Further, the jury should have been directed that the victim’s actions must be proportional to the gravity of the threat. Based on these failures, joint enterprise could not be proven and, consequently, the case for robbery failed. In the absence of an unlawful act, the elements of manslaughter were also not present.