The UK government's cheif advisor took a trip to Barnard Castle in the middle of a nationwide lockdown. A clearly illegal act.

As a result of this, many people are choosing to flout lockdown rules because "if he can do it, why can't they"? Thus, community transmission is on the rise and we're facing a second spike.

Any reasonable person in power would know that by getting caught flouting the rules, they would weaken the application of those rules. Thus, by taking this trip, Dominic Cummings would have reasonably known that he would put people at risk of catching COVID-19.

As such, could he potentially be found guilty of manslaughter for these excess deaths as a direct result of his actions?

  • 1
    Unfortunately not, due to him being the law. A private militia could exact justice of course, which is why governments like to enforce their monopoly on violence. Commented Aug 1, 2020 at 1:04

2 Answers 2



It would not meet the criteria for "unlawful act manslaughter" per the CPS Guide for Crown Prosecutors:

The offence is made out if it is proved that the accused intentionally did an unlawful and dangerous act from which death inadvertently resulted.

This is because there's no unbroken chain of causation.

Let's walk through each element.

1. An unlawful and dangerous act


Clearly, the act was unlawful — leaving his home without reasonable excuse contrary to the relevant regulations.


This is an objective test. The test is whether all sober and reasonable people recognised its danger, based solely on their observation of Cummings' conduct during the act. (DPP v Newbury (Neil) [1977] Crim. L.R. 359).

It seems the objective test is met - as the risk of harm only has to be "some" risk of harm, and you could argue if he had coronavirus he was putting other members of the public at risk, even if that risk was slight.

2. Causation

The prosecution must establish that the unlawful act was a cause of the death without an "intervening act" to break the chain of causation (R v Lewis [2010] EWCA Crim 151).

It will be impossible to prove such a chain of causation in this case, therefore any attempted prosecution will likely prove unsuccessful. There is no direct, unbroken link between what he did and someone dying of coronavirus.

  • 1
    Causation that far is impossible to prove. In the US this would be the employee pushes man onto leaving train causing him to let his fireworks falling onto the train tracks which explode causing a panic causing a scale to fall over causing a wrongful death case
    – Trish
    Commented Jul 31, 2020 at 13:37
  • Thought that would probably be the case... Interesting to think about though! Commented Jul 31, 2020 at 18:06


Whilst many have found Mr Cummings' actions intensely frustrating and indeed the moral side to this, (outside of the law) is that leaving one's house during lockdown without good cause, contributes to greater spread of the disease, a charge of manslaughter would not likely be levied against him.

Before evening looking at manslaughter - the The Health Protection (Coronavirus, Restrictions) (No. 2) (England) Regulations 2020 mentions here:

"A person who without reasonable excuse contravenes a requirement in regulation 4, 5, 6(10), (11) or 7 commits an offence."

'Reasonable excuse' based on concrete facts is something that would have to be explored by police, CPS etc - and then even argued by the defendant's lawyer if needed - before being convicted of this offence - not just by the media.

But, accepting the academic discussion of pursuing a manslaughter charge if the defendant were found guilty of breaking this law:

CPS Guide: Murder & Manslaughter

Manslaughter can be committed in one of three ways:

  1. Killing with the intent for murder but where a partial defence applies, namely loss of control, diminished responsibility or killing pursuant to a suicide pact.
  2. Conduct that was grossly negligent given the risk of death, and did kill ("gross negligence manslaughter"); and
  3. Conduct taking the form of an unlawful act involving a danger of some harm that resulted in death ("unlawful and dangerous act manslaughter"). The term "involuntary manslaughter" is commonly used to describe manslaughter falling within (2) and (3) while (1) is referred to as "voluntary manslaughter".

The assertion of the charge would fail at the first hurdle, given the CPS and legal requirements. But, even if we plead ignorance to this for the purposes of discussion:

The first problem pertaining to a specific charge of manslaughter being levied against Mr Cummings is that one has to have a victim (or plural) who has died as a consequence of Mr Cumming's actions (but for his actions, this death would not have occurred). Expert witnesses would almost certainly testify that any alleged victim died from the effects of coronavirus and that is impossible to definitively say where this was contracted from and how it coincided with Mr Cummings actions. Given specifically that this infringement was before 'track and trace' etc - and in quite a preliminary stage of lockdown and a great many people may have carried coronavirus. If you were even talking about limiting the scope of this discussion to simply his journey in itself, there is not (to my knowledge) definitive evidence that Mr Cummings actually had coronarvirus himself... etc.

A manslaughter charge would then fail on the grounds that one could not prove an unbroken chain of causation between Mr Cummings' breach of the legislation: The Health Protection (Coronavirus, Restrictions) (No. 2) (England) Regulations 2020 and the victim's death. There are too many uncertainties and possibilities that render Mr Cumming's liability remote to say the least. There is a rather good essay focusing on chain of causation and manslaughter here.

It is my impression that some would like a serious criminal charge levied against Mr Cummings and thus the reason for questions like this. Moving aside from manslaughter into procedural matters - pursuing an individual that broke lockdown once or twice (as far as we know), beyond statutory fines, or to create a serious offence of it (eg "being outside your own home during lockdown without good cause = endangering life") is not a step that parliament, the CPS or judiciary would likely pursue as it would open the floodgates of 'necessitated' prosecutions and the practical effects of this would be very difficult if not impossible to manage. Could everyone who left their house be (remotely) liable for the death or injury of another? This is not the same as coughing in a keyworkers face, for example (see CPS here). There is also a fantastic Oxford article on criminal issues pertaining to spreading coronavirus here.

You have mentioned that you feel Mr Cummings has encouraged people to behave recklessly. Encouraging a crime is an incredibly complicated area of law - see here and here - and 'encouraging recklessness' is even more complicated still!

As a further point of interest to this question; there is currently an attempt to privately prosecute Mr Cummings for breach of this legislation - however, the point has been made that currently the only people who can prosecute Mr Cummings are the CPS or government, as private prosecution for infringing the Coronavirus legislation, is not possible under the Public Health (Control of Disease) Act 1984 - see here)

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