Topics: Causality, Causation in English law, Criminal law Pages: 9 (1261 words) Published: December 11, 2014


Causation refers to inquiry as to whether the defendants conduct (or omission) caused the harm or damage. Causation must be established in all result crimes. In criminal liability it is divided into Factual causation and Legal causation. Factual causation is the starting point and consist of applying the ‘but for’ test. In most instances where there exists no complicating factors, factual causation on its own will suffice to establish causation. However, in some circumstances it will also be necessary to consider Legal causation. Under legal causation the result must be caused by a culpable act. There is no requirement that the act of the defendant was the only cause, there must be no Novus Actus Interviens (new intervening act) and the defendant must take his victim as he finds him. Factual causation is established by applying the ‘but for’ test. This asks, keepin aside D’s conduct, would the consequences have come about? If YES, the result would have occurred in any event thus the defendant is not liable. If the answer is NO. the defendant is liable as it can be said that there action was the factual cause of the result. This can be seen in the case of R v White where the defendant, son mixed poison in his mother’s drink with intention of killing her. She took some sips and slept but never woke up. The postmortem report revealed that she died of a heart attack not poison. The defendant was not liable for her murder as his act of poisoning was not the cause of death. He was liable for attempt. Legal causation requires that the harm must result from a culpable ct. To be a legal cause, the defendant’s contribution to the result must be substantial, although it need not be the sole cause. It is also necessary to ask that to what extent defendant act significantly contributed to the result. In Adams (1957) a doctor gave his terminally ill patient a dose of painkillers so strong that it killed the patient. Doctor was acquitted of murder his contribution could be ignored as negligible. This case is authority for the point that the result must be caused by a culpable act. In another case of Benge (1865) the defendant was charged with Gross Negligence Manslaughter for his involvement in an incident involving a train becoming derailed. D, a foreman platelayer on a railway failed to check the timetable of train to ensure that the men working for him were safe. One workman was killed in this accident. D claimed that he was not the legal cause of the accident since the driver could have prevented death by driving attentively. D’s conviction was upheld. The defendant action need not be the only cause, he can be liable if his act was more than a minimal cause. It is sometimes difficult to decide whether D is the legal cause of a consequence when something unforeseen happens following D’s unlawful act. In R v Mckechnie, D beats up V, who suffered very serious head injuries and remained unconscious for weeks. During his recovery doctors discovered that he had duodenal ulcer but decided to operate it after his recovery from injuries. V died because of ulcer bursting. Then in the case of R v Malchereck doctors had to put malcherek off the life support machine. In both of these cases defendant’s conviction was upheld. The first key point emerging here is if there is more than one operating cause, D’s wrongful act will still be the legal cause if a later cause leading to death is independent of D’s initial act it will prevent the initial cause from being still operative. In causation tere must be no Novus Actus Interveniens. It is a new intervening act which breaks the chain of causation. Occasionally, acts of third parties can break the chain of causation unless the act was foreseeable. In R v Pagett (1983), D used his pregnant girlfriend V, as a human shield to prevent police officers arresting him. D shot towards police with his shotgun. Police returned fire and V was killed. He appealed against the manslaughter...
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