Law Blog

Manslaughter Charges: Criminal Negligence or Unlawful Act?


As an indictable offence that can incur a lengthy jail time, a manslaughter charge is an incredibly difficult challenge to defend. With limited evidence and a deceased person connected to them, the accused faces a significant battle in trying to demonstrate their innocence, especially if they believed they acted in self-defence.

However, with the right criminal defence lawyer by their side, the accused may be able to be cleared of their charges and get their life back. Part of this involves understanding the intent and cause behind their manslaughter charge, including whether the cause of a person’s death was through criminal negligence and an unlawful act. 

In today’s post, What The Law will be looking at what Canadian law means when we talk about criminal negligence or unlawful acts in manslaughter.

What is a Manslaughter Charge?

Manslaughter is often confused with murder charges as they both involve the death of a victim. In fact, the point of many murder trials is to determine whether the accused committed an act of murder or manslaughter.

In short, murder can be viewed as an act that shows deliberate intent to kill someone. In most murder cases, the accused person(s) might have planned or conspired to kill the victim too. In manslaughter cases however, the accused did not plan or intend to kill someone. Instead, they acted in or contributed to the death of an individual and did not do so out of pure self-defence.

What is Manslaughter by Unlaw Act

An Unlaw Act can be considered as an action that is essentially wrong in itself. For example, attempting to strangle, punch or aggressively throw someone are all actions that go against the law. These actions may be considered a form of assault which has evolved to become an act of manslaughter if the other person passes away from this incident. Therefore, if you were attempting to punch or attack someone and they died as a result of this or its complications, you may face a manslaughter charge. 

It is also worth noting that these acts happen outside of self-defence. So, choosing to punch or beat someone to start or continue a conflict would be deemed an unlawful act. On the other hand, if you were to punch someone as a way to escape or defend yourself from further harm or threat then this might be considered in your defence against a manslaughter or murder charge.

What is Manslaughter through Criminal Negligence

Similar to unlawful acts, criminal negligence is reserved for events where the deceased was killed as a result of the accused acting irresponsibly. For example, if you were engaging in a car race and one person happened to crash and die, then those in the race would be charged with criminal negligence as they contributed to the person speeding and then crashing. 

Other scenarios of criminal negligence might be more passive than they appear where the accused does not fulfill their responsibilities to others. An example would be a parent not intervening if they knew the other parent had abused and caused the death of their child. They will likely be charged even if they did not commit the act themselves, this is because they have deliberately ignored their duty of care for their child. Similar circumstances surrounding duty of care and responsibility for others apply in traffic accidents, schools, hospitals, workplaces and more. 

There is some overlap between unlawful acts and criminal negligence as both imply you were not acting sensibly or in consideration of the other person. But being able to understand and define what caused a person’s death can help the accused build a stronger defence by demonstrating evidence against the manslaughter charge. 

Find a Manslaughter Criminal Lawyer in Toronto & Ontario

If you are looking for a skilled criminal defence lawyer to fight for your case against a manslaughter defence, consider What The Law today. We are a team of professional criminal lawyers who have successfully defended many challenging cases, including manslaughter and murder charges.

With 24/7 availability and fair, flat-rate fees, we promise to offer you the skilled and honest legal support you can count on. Get in touch with us today and tell us what happened - we are here to fight for you!