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’. 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 ....
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