R v Dawson (1985) 81 Cr App R 150, [1985] Crim LR 383

Key point

  • In constructive manslaughter, physical harm must be foreseeable to a sober and reasonable person with the same knowledge as the defendant


  • Ds robbed a petrol station with a replica gun and threatened a 60-year-old man V
  • V later died of a heart attack from the shock, Ds did not know of his heart condition
  • Ds were convicted with constructive manslaughter
  • The judge directed the jury that when considering whether all sober and reasonable people would realise that the unlawful act must inevitably create the risk of some harm that meant “all reasonable people who knew the facts that you know.”

Held (Court of Appeal)

  • Appeal allowed – the judge erred in his direction and the conviction was quashed

Watkins LJ

  • “the test [of whether an unlawful act is likely to cause harm] can only be undertaken upon the basis of the knowledge gained by a sober and reasonable man as though he were present at the scene and watched the unlawful act being performed … In other words he had the same knowledge of the man attempting to rob and no more”
  • The reasonable person would not have had knowledge of V’s weak heart and thus would not foresee his heart attack


  • Although the test is mostly objective, it has a subjective element in relation to the knowledge of the defendant