criminal law

Topics: Causality, Criminal law, Causation Pages: 9 (3406 words) Published: November 17, 2013
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______________________________________________________________ INTRODUCTION
Where the actus reus of a crime includes specific consequences e.g. the crime of Murder - the consequence being death, it must be shown that the Defendant caused the victim's death (although the defendant's act need not be the sole or the main cause of death). A common approach of the courts has been to assert that causation is a question of fact to be answered by the application of common sense. The cornerstone of the law on causation is that the prosecution must show that the defendant’s act was the substantial and operating cause of the harm. The term ‘substantial’ makes it clear that the defendant’s act need not be the sole cause but the act must be more than just a de minimis or a slight contribution to the result. Two matters need to be considered:

(i) did the defendant in fact cause the victim's death – that is factual causation and if so (ii) can he be held to have caused it in law- legal causation A) Causation in fact (but for test was established) R V WHITE To establish causation in fact, the "But for" Test established in R v White [1910] 2 KB 124 must be applied. For the ‘but for’ test to uphold, it must be proved that, but for the defendant's acts, the consequence would not have occurred. Note this is subject to the exception of innocent agents (which will be discussed later in the “parties to a crime” lecture. ) R v White [1910] 2 KB 124

The defendant placed poison in a glass containing his mother's drink. She drank the contents of the glass, but died of heart failure before the poison could take effect. The defendant was charged with murder but convicted of attempted murder. With regard to causation in fact, the defendant's act in placing poison in his mother's drink did not in any way cause her death thus it was not the factual cause of death. It is important to remember that the D is only liable under the criminal law if a wrongful act of his own causes the injury as if D’s conduct did not contribute to the result, or only contributed to it in a trivial way, then it could not be said that D caused the crime. - See Dalloway (1847) 3 Cox CC 27

In Dalloway the accused was driving a horse and cart in a negligent fashion when a young child ran into the road ahead of him. Dalloway was unable to stop and the young child was killed. It was held that the jury should have been directed that if they found that even if Dalloway had been driving properly he would have still run over the child, then they must acquit him since the negligent way in which he was driving could not be said to be the legal cause of the child’s death. To gain a conviction the prosecution would have to prove that it was the negligent element of the driving that was the cause of the child’s death not just simply the fact that the Dalloway was driving and that a child was killed with his cart. B) CAUSATION IN LAW - SUBSTANTIAL AND OPERATING CAUSE (R V SMITH) To establish causation in law, it must be proven that the Defendant’s act was the substantive and operating cause of the harm: R v Smith [1959] 2 All ER 193 In R v Smith, Smith had been convicted at court martial of the murder of another soldier by stabbing him. The victim had been dropped twice while being taken to the medical reception station and was subsequently given treatment which was said to be incorrect and harmful. Lord Parker CJ, giving the judgment of the Court Martial Appeal Court rejected a contention that his death did not result from the stab wound. He noted in part:

“ It seems to the court that, if at the time of the death the original wound is still an operating cause and a substantial cause, then the death can properly be said to be the result of the wound, albeit that some other cause of death is also operating. Only if it can be said that the original wounding is...
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