Manslaughter and the Legal Duty of Care
On Wednesday the 20th of January 2021, the Cairns Queensland Court held Goodstart Early Learning Centre childcare worker Ms Dionne Batrice Grills’ criminal charge for involuntary manslaughter be dismissed.
Justice Priestly promptly discharged Ms Grills, determining she had no criminal case to answer for at law.
In his decision to that effect, Justice Priestly stated that Ms Grills had no legal duty of care to little Malik Nicholas Floyd Namok-Malamoo, the 3-year-old toddler who had been left behind on the Goodstart Early Learning Centre minibus in February last year.
Little Malik was accidently left on the minibus for up to 6 hours after been picked up by Ms Grills and the minibus driver Mr Michael Glenn Lewis. Temperature inside the minibus are said to have reached a sweltering 30 degrees Celsius and ultimately took the life of little Malik.
Ms Grills although relieved her criminal charges were dismissed nevertheless stated in a statement outside Court that she ‘.. will carry the heartache of Malik’s death for life’.
Manslaughter is the crime causing the death of a human being without malice intention, or in circumstances not amounting to murder.
Non-intended or accidental deaths are often charged as involuntary manslaughter.
There are two (2) categories of involuntary manslaughter, being:
manslaughter by unlawful and dangerous act, and
manslaughter by criminal negligence.
Unlawful and Dangerous act
In the first category manslaughter by unlawful and dangerous act, the accused person is said to have been engaging in conduct that was illegal and deemed dangerous AND this conduct resulted in the death of another human being.
Here there is no intent to kill, but for the fact of the illegal and dangerous conduct a death has still occurred.
A dangerous act is deemed to be one that a reasonable person in the position of the accused would have appreciated was an act that exposes another person to a risk of serious injury.
In the second category manslaughter by criminal negligence there is no illegal or dangerous conduct present, but the person is said to have owed a LEGAL DUTY OF CARE to ensure the safety of the deceased person.
Whether the person owned a legal duty of care is a question for the Judge not a jury.
In the present case of Ms Grills, the police had charged her pursuant to the second category of manslaughter by criminal negligence.
At Court, the prosecution stated the Ms Grills owed a legal duty of care to protect little Malik from harm and she had failed in her legal duty of care.
The prosecution stated that Ms Grills’ legal duty of care arose from the fact she was on the minibus when Malik was collected from his home, and thus she owed Malik a legal duty of care to ensure he was safe from harm.
However, Ms Grills’ defence team pointed to the policy and procedures at Goodstart Early Learning Centre which stated that it was the responsibility of the minibus driver Mr Lewis not Ms Grills, to ensure all children were removed from the bus by checking under seats etc, and to then lock the bus ensuring again no child had been left inside.
The Court agreed with the defence being that as a question of law Ms Grills owed no legal duty of care to little Malik, for that legal duty of care rested on the minibus driver Mr Lewis and not Ms Grills.
Subsequently ruling she was not criminally negligent to satisfy the charge of manslaughter by criminal negligence.
That being the case, Ms Grills had no case to answer for at law and the case against her was dismissed.
Whilst there will never be any real winners in cases of this type, this case does show that the law still needs to be correctly applied no matter how tragic the circumstances or events are.
We here at Rep-Revive Criminal & Employment lawyers have helped many people facing very serious and life changing criminal charges. So, if you or someone you know is charged with criminal offence, contact Rep-Revive Criminal & Employment Lawyers® for a free initial consultation on (02) 9198 1997 or visit www.rpr5.sydney for further information on how we listen, we fight, and you win!
 Wilson v The Queen (1992) 174 CLR 313.
 Burns v The Queen (2012) 246 CLR 334, , ;