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Causation and Unlawful Act Manslaughter

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In regard to criminal liability, certain elements must be satisfied for an individual to be found guilty of an offence. The accused must have been responsible for conduct which is otherwise prohibited by the law; this is referred to as the ‘actus reus’ of a crime. However this alone is insufficient for conviction, unless it concerns a crime which is of strict liability, like Harrow London BC v. Shah . Alongside the ‘actus reus’ element of a crime there is also a requirement for the accused to have the appropriate state of mind known as the ‘mens rea’.

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Both ‘actus reus’ and ‘mens rea’ need to be apparent to create criminal liability. Another dimension to criminal liability is that not all ‘actus rei’ require an ‘act’, meaning it is possible for the accused to be liable for simply omitting/failing to act just as the defendant found in DPP v. Santana-Bermudez . The area of law concerning this question is causation which simply means that the defendant’s actions must have caused the required consequence.

‘It is necessary to show not only that the defendant performed an act, but that the act caused a particular consequence. At first glance this seems straightforward, if ‘X’ broke ‘Y’s neck; it would be difficult for ‘X’ to deny that he/she was the cause of ‘Y’s death. However in other circumstances it can be difficult to establish the cause, which causes complication. In an attempt to convict the defendant, it must be proven that his/her conduct was a factual ‘but for’ cause and a legal cause. A factual ‘but for’ cause means that it must be established that the result would not have occurred ‘but for’ the defendant’s actions. An example would be R v. White . Similarly this is also evident in R v. Dalloway . The result would have occurred with or without the defendant’s actions. On the other hand legal causation as described by the courts is an ‘operating and substantial cause’ and therefore results in a specifically particular outcome. Although it is also possible for the defendant to claim that they were not an ‘operating and substantial cause’ as there was a break in the chain of causation. This is also referred to as ‘a novus actus interveniens: a free voluntary act of a third party which renders the original act no longer an operating and substantial cause of the result.

This can be exemplified in R v. Pagett . In relation to the question it can be said that Kim did cause Ron’s death. Although Kim did not physically hurt Ron herself, she caused Ron to fear her to the extent that he felt the need to throw himself out of a glass door. It is foreseeable as to what will happen if one is to throw themselves out of a glass door; Ron decided to take this risk regardless, believing that Kim would have caused him more harm. He had contracted his injury resulting from fear. A similar case to this is R v. Roberts where the victim feared for her life so much she jumped out of a moving vehicle resulting in her sustaining an injury. It can be argued that Kim was a factual ‘but for’ cause and a legal cause to Ron’s death, as was it not for her pointing the knife at him, this would not have resulted in him throwing himself out of a glass door. Legally it can be put forward that Kim was an ‘operating and substantial’ cause of Ron’s death, by pointing the knife at him she established the chain of causation.

Kim could argue that there had been a break in the chain of causation, also known as a ‘novus actus interveniens’. She could put forward that she did not cause Ron’s death, and that he broke the chain by using an unsterilized needle to stitch up his wound which caused it to become infected. Furthermore he failed to inform the doctor’s about his injury which resulted in them administering unsuitable drugs, this in a sense could be seen as consent on Ron’s behalf as he has accepted the injury. However consent from a victim will not prevent the act from being unlawful, as confirmed in R v. Cato .

As Ron did not inform the doctor’s of his wound, it could be accepted that the doctor’s should taken the appropriate measures to discover his wound and therefore taken steps to ensure he received the correct medication. This can be compared to the case of R v. Jordan , although the defendant was found guilty, the argument put forward is similar to the argument Kim can put forward as her defence. Contrary to this it could be argued that Ron’s attempt to escape Kim was a reasonable foreseeable consequence of Kim’s actions. In the case of R v. Williams and Davis it was held ‘that the action of the victim was within the range of reasonable responses that might be expected from the victim in that situation, therefore it cannot constitute a break in the chain of causation, there must be some proportionality between the gravity of the threat and the action of the deceased in seeking to escape from it’. This would assume that Kim had caused Ron’s death and that there was not a break in the chain of causation, as it is reasonably foreseeable that if you were to point a knife at someone they would take measures to escape you out of fear.

In addition it could be argued that the medical treatment was not an overwhelming factor of the cause of death, like the result in R v. Smith so this could result in proving that Kim was the cause of Ron’s death as Lord Parker CJ said: ‘… only if the second cause is so overwhelming as to make the original wound merely part of the history can it be said that the death does not flow from the wound’ . So the doctor’s did not fail to act entirely, they just did not carry out their checks adequately enough to find the cause of the infection.

It can be assumed that they fulfilled their duties and treated the infection as they saw fit. Nevertheless Kim’s counter-argument to prove her innocence could be that there is a major requirement from doctor’s to thoroughly check over the patients and to then administer the appropriate drugs accordingly, which unfortunately did not occur in Ron’s situation. Assuming causation can be shown; there is a possibility that Kim could be found guilty of unlawful act manslaughter. According to R v. Creamer ‘a person is guilty of involuntary manslaughter also known as constructive manslaughter when he or she intends an unlawful act that is likely to do harm to the person, and death results which was neither foreseen nor intended’.

Kim intended to point the knife threateningly at Ron so he would be scared, this is the unlawful act which causes harm to the person and finally causes his death, although it was not intended and could not have been foreseen. Much like the situation in R v. Dawson it was not reasonably foreseeable for Kim to know that Ron would contract an infection, use an unsterilized needle, fail to tell the doctor’s of his wound and then die. This type of manslaughter is committed when the accused has caused the death of a person by an unlawful and dangerous act. When addressing such an issue, one can opt to apply the rules of A-G’s Reference (No 3 of 1994) whereby Lord Hope of Craighead stated that only the following questions needed to be answered to find the accused guilty of unlawful and dangerous act manslaughter (UDAM): 1. Whether the act was done intentionally, 2. Whether it was unlawful, 3.

Whether it was also dangerous because it was likely to cause harm to somebody and 4. Whether the unlawful and dangerous act caused death. According to these rules Kim could not be guilty of unlawful act manslaughter as she did not intentionally cause Ron’s death, as she lacked the appropriate mens rea and was ‘immediately remorseful’. Secondly the unlawful act must be a crime in respect of which the accused has the appropriate mens rea; this is illustrated in R v. Franklin and was later confirmed in R v. Lamb meaning that this would identify Kim’s actions as not being unlawful in the sense that it was not a crime.

Yet not all crimes would suffice to prove manslaughter, as shown in R v. Andrews . Kim does not satisfy all the questions in A-G’s Reference (No 3 of 1994) . In conclusion there would be a strong case against Kim, as it can be proven that she was a factual ‘but for’ cause and a legal cause leading up to Ron’s death, although unintentional, she still committed an unlawful act resulting in a death. Her prosecution would be weaker than the defence as it would be difficult to prove that Kim did not establish causation making her guilty of an unlawful act and manslaughter.

Cite this Causation and Unlawful Act Manslaughter

Causation and Unlawful Act Manslaughter. (2017, Mar 18). Retrieved from https://graduateway.com/causation-and-unlawful-act-manslaughter/

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