R v Ball
Court of Appeal
Citations:  Crim LR 730.
The defendant was a landowner with hearing and speech impediments. The defendant’s neighbour parked his car on the defendant’s land without his consent. The defendant sold the car without asking the neighbour. The neighbour approached the defendant’s land with two young men and demanded to know where the car was. The defendant came down the garden path with a gun, behaving aggressively and abusively. The two men fled, but the defendant and the neighbour continued to argued. Eventually, the neighbour tried to climb over a wall. The defendant shot and killed her.
- In relation to murder, that he incorrectly believed that he had loaded the gun with blanks Accordingly, he did not intend to kill or cause GBH so the mens rea of murder was not established. There was evidence that the defendant had previously tried to scare the neighbour off his land with blanks. However, he stored live and blank ammunition near each other, and had accidentally taken the wrong kind when he went to confront the neighbour on this occasion.
- In relation to unlawful act manslaughter, the defendant accepted that he had assaulted the neighbour and so committed an unlawful act. However, he argued that the jury’s objective assessment of whether his act was dangerous had to take into account his mistaken belief that the gun was loaded with blanks. This would lead to the conclusion that his act was not dangerous.
The trial judge withdrew from the jury consideration of whether the defendant thought he had loaded the gun with blanks. Nevertheless, the jury acquitted him of murder but convicted him of manslaughter.
The defendant appealed, arguing that the judge had misdirected the jury. Since they acquitted him of murder, the jury must have believed that the defendant thought there was a blank in the gun. However, the judge had not permitted the jury to consider the impact of the defendant’s mistaken belief on the assessment of dangerousness.
The court dismissed the appeal. The judge had correctly directed the jury that the defendant’s mistaken beliefs were irrelevant to whether his actions were dangerous.
This Case is Authority For…
When considering unlawful act manslaughter, the jury must assess whether the act was ‘dangerous in the sense that all sober and reasonable people would inevitably realise that it would subject the victim to the risk of some harm, albeit not serious harm.’
The hypothetical reasonable and sober person has the knowledge and beliefs of a person ‘present at the scene of and watch[ing] the unlawful act being performed’. They are not attributed any mistaken beliefs which the defendant possesses about the situation. The defendant’s knowledge, foresight and intention is irrelevant to whether the act is objectively dangerous.
The court noted that there is no need for the unlawful act to be ‘directed at the victim’ in the sense that the defendant intended to do something to the victim. All that is required is the lack of a ‘fresh intervening cause between the act of death’.
This refutes one interpretation of the decision in R v Dalby (1982) 74 Cr App R 348. In that case, the defendant’s conviction for unlawful act manslaughter was quashed because his unlawful act (supplying drugs) ‘was not an act directed against the person of [the victim] and the supply did not cause any direct injury to him’. Dalby is now properly interpreted as a case where the victim’s act of self-injection of the drugs broke the chain of causation between the unlawful act and death.