Earlier in the week, we received a request to take a look at the one punch manslaughter case of Richard Eveleigh.
Eveleigh, 63, and his friend, Paul Lightowler, 60 watched Liverpool’s Europa League final defeat at a venue in the city. Walking in the city after the match, the two fell out and Eveleigh punched Lightowler once to the face. Lightowler fell backwards and struck his head on the ground. He lost consciousness and subsequently died.
Eveleigh admitted unlawful act manslaughter and was sentenced to 28 months’ imprisonment. Lightowler’s family had made it known that they did not wish to see Eveleigh sent to prison.
The sentencing judge commented that he was “no doubt devastated” and that “whilst it’s a grievous loss – it’s a loss for which you bear entire responsibility”.
Although the facts in the news report are sparse, there appears to be no issue as to whether or not Eveleigh is guilty. He punched the victim – an unlawful act – causing him to fall and strike his head resulting in his death.
These sorts of cases are always difficult to sentence. On the one hand, a man has died and that needs to be marked. On the other, there was no intention to cause any harm – the death of his friend would have left Mr Eveleigh distraught, and the victims ‘s family positively wanted a lenient sentence.
For that reason, these sorts of cases are very fact specific. Ten or twenty years ago it may be that Mr Eveleigh would have been given a suspended sentence. Nowadays this is less of an option (although there may well be an appeal here), and the sentence seems a fair one on the facts. Some judges would have given less, but sentencing is an art not a science.
This case was mentioned to us in relation to the concept of moral luck. Moral luck refers to the concept of holding a moral agent responsible for the consequences of an action where they have no or incomplete control over it. This works both in relation to blame and praise. In this situation, of course the issue is holding Eveleigh responsible for the death of Lightowler in circumstances where the consequence is beyond his control.
There is much academic writing about moral luck (see here for a good starting point).
The criminal law is heavily focused upon the result of criminal actions – a single punch resulting in death is more blameworthy than a single punch result in a mere bruise.
Consider the situation where a driver, through momentary inattention, runs a red traffic light. In scenario A, the driver hits and kills a child who is crossing the road. In scenario B, there is no child crossing the road and the driver passes through the traffic lights without incident. Should the law treat scenario A different to scenario B?
This doesn’t impact upon conviction.
The way in which the law currently deals with this is through sentence; the sentence reflects the culpability of the offender and the harm caused. Eveleigh is culpable – that is not in question. But on the basis that he did not intend to cause death or serious injury, that the single punch would normally not result in anything more than a transient injury (if that). So Eveleigh’s sentence is less than it otherwise would be.
The law holds someone responsible for consequences that were never intended. Is that fair? We suspect most people would think so, at least as long as account is taken of what the actual intention was.
But, over to you – what do you think? How do you sentence a case where what is intended is so far from what occurs?