Notes on Causation from 'Principles of Criminal Liability'

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  • Created by: Georgina
  • Created on: 02-11-14 14:55


In order to find the accused guilty the prosecution must prove that a consequence occured.

This is under non fatal and non-fatal offences

Usually obvious that D's actions have caused this consequence

It is the jury's decision if there is a necessary link (causal link), the judge must direct the jury on any relevant legal principles (R v Paggett)

There needs to be both factual causation and legal causation

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Factual Causation

Factual causation is normally obvious, it proves that the defendants atcs/ommisions played a role in bringing about the consequence

They are only guilty if the result would not have happened but for the defendants acts/ommisions

However if the result would have happened anyway there is no liability


  • R v White- cyanide
  • R v Paggett- human shield
  • R v Hughes- heroin crash
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R v White 1910


  • D put cyanide in his mothers tea with the intention to kill her
  • She had a heart attack and died (only drank 1/4 of the tea)
  • Her death was a result of an unconnected heart issue not the posion


  • Acquitted of murder
  • He was not the cause of her death
  • Convicted of attempted murder


  • The law seems to be working as he was eventually convicted of the appropriate charge- attempted murder
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R v Paggett 1983


  • D was in shoot off with police following holding his pregnant girlfriend (V) hostage
  • D used V as a human shield 
  • V was shot in police fire back and died
  • Convicted of manslaughter


  • Manslaughter as he had no intent to kill her but to protect himself
  • V wouldn't have died 'but for' him using her as a sheild


  • D caused the death of girlfriend and foetus, but cannot be prosecuted, as in our law the foetus isnt alive until he/she has been born- seems wrong to many
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R v Hughes 2013


  • Dickenson was tired, drugged and was driving dangerously 
  • Crashed into Hughes (faultless driving)- bend on the wrong side of the road
  • D died and was entirely responsible for his own death
  • H was uninsured and only provisional- convicted of causing death under Road Traffic Act 
  • 'But for H driving when he shouldn't have been D wouldn't have crashed into him and died'


  • Quashed as 'by the test of common sense' whilst H created the oppurtunity for the crash by driving, the death was brought about by D's dangerous driving/under influence
  • He could have just as easily hit a tree and no one would try to convict the tree for the death (which wouldnt even be said (sine qua non)


  • Absurd original decision the court originally focused too much on how H was not meant ot be on the road as oppose who was to blame, many wonder why he was prosecuted in the first place
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Legal Causation

Once factual causation is established then the prosecution must prove legal causation

Legal causation is concerned with blame, whether or not the consequence is their fault

Legal causation is a "moral reaction. The question is whether the result can fairly be said to be imputbable to the defendant" Professor Glanville Williams


  • Dalloway 1847- horse and cart
  • R v Kimsey 1996- more than a slight or trifling link
  • R v Marchant and Muntz 2004- motorbike spike
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Dalloway 1847


  • D was driving a horse and cart- but the reins werent in his hands
  • 3 year old ran into the road just ahead of the cart and was killed
  • Jury were directed that if the D had the reins he could have saved the child so he would be guilty of manslaughter
  • But it was found that even if he had the reins he wouldnt have in time.


  • He definitely had the factual causation in that his ommision were the cause of the childs death but he was to blame as even if he had held the reins it was too late


  • Helps to focus on the main issue of legal causation- whether the death was defendants fault so his negligent driving
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R v Kimsey 1996


  • Death caused by dangerous driving


  • The jury didnt have to be sure that the "D's driving was the principal or substantial cause of death"
  • As long as it is thought to be a cause with something "more than a slight or trifling link"


  • This concerns the level of responsibility the driver has whislt on the road
  • This allows for the law on dangerous driving to extend its protection of the public as the driving doesnt have to be the primary cause
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R v Marchant and Muntz 2004


  • V was impaled by 1m spike on the end of tractor
  • The tractor by law should have had a cover over this spike but the driver (D), as he was only driving a short distance had chosen not to put the cover on
  • D's driving wasnt dangerous but having the vehicle on the road was in itself dangerous


  • CofA quashed convictions- even if the guard had been in place it wouldnt have prevented the collision and the V would still have had severe injuries/fatality
  • D had not caused V's death


  • The question therefore could be whether these spikes should be on the road if even when covered they are dangerous
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Minimal Causes

Acceleration principle


  • D may be liable for the V's death if they have accelerated their death
  • It is no defence to say they were dying anyway (Dyson 1908)

De minimas principle

  • D's conduct must be more than a minimal cause as law ignores trivialites (Notman 1994)
  • Can be more than one person who contributes to the end consequence
  • The defendant can be guilty even though the D wasnt the only cause

Rv Warburton and Hubbersty 2006

  • CofA dismissed Ds submission that the jury should acquit
  • V suffered a number of injuries from many different people so they couldnt be sure that it was the injuries of that D that caused death. 
  • CofA held that the jury should test " did the acts for which the D is responsible for significantly contribute to the Vs death"

Malcherek and Steel 1981 argued that the principle that a D's act must be a substantial cause favoured was too favourable to the D

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Thin Scull Rule

The defendant must take his victim as he finds him

Meaning that even if the defendant has a physical or mental condition/irregularity that makes a potential injury more serious the defendant is liable for that more serious injury


  • R v Blaue 1975
  • Hayward 1908
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R v Blaue 1975


  • D stabbed V 4 times penetrating her lung and was admitted to hospital needing a blood transfusion to save her life
  • She was a Jehovah's Witness so refused the transfusion and died- she would have survived
  • Defendant was convicted of murder 


  • The stabbing was fatal because V was a Jehovah's Witness but the D was still guilty because he had to take the victim as he found her


  • The D shouldn't have stabbed her it doesn't matter she was a JW, the act in itself was 'wrong'
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Hayward 1908


  • D chased his wife from the house with violence and anger
  • She collapsed and died 
  • She was found to be suffering from a medical condition meaning that a combination of fear and physical exertion might cause death
  • Neither the V or D knew she had this condition


  • No evidence of physical violence was necessary
  • D had commited a criminal act which led to Vs death
  • Manslaughter as they had no knowledge of the condition


  • Very severe ruling often seen as harsh as the conviction was murder not manslaughter
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Intervening Causes

The chain of causation

  • To prove causation there must be a direct link between D's conduct (e.g. shooting a person) and the consequence (e.g. the death of the person)
  • In some situations something else happens after the act which could break the chain of causation aka the Novus Actus Interveniens

This can be broken in 3 ways:

  • Actions of the third party-medical treatment & drug treatment

R v Jordan, R v Smith, R v Cheshire, R v Malcherek, Kennedy

  • Victims own act & self neclect

R v Roberts, R v Majoram, R v Lewis, R v Williams and Davis, R v Holland,  R v Dear

  • Natural but unpredictable event

Environment Agency v Express Car Co

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R v Jordan 1956


  • V stabbed in the stomach & treated in hopital respondin well to treatment with wounds healing
  • Doctors gave victim an antibiotic that he was allergic to twice & ecxccess IV
  • V died


  • CofA quashed murder conviction
  • The case was saw "not normal treatment"
  • Two searate features fo treatment were viewed to be "palpabley wrong"


  • CofA desciribed as "exceptional" and "decided on its own specific facts"
  • Treament no normal therefore setting itself different from Cheshire and Smith
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R v Smith 1959


  • D was asoldier, he stabbed the V twice with a bayonet preircing his lung
  • Another soldier carried V to medical station- but dropped him twice
  • Medics failed to diagnose victim correctly & gave 'thoroughly bad' treatment affecting chances of recovery by 75%
  • V died of haemrrhage


  • D still guilty-murder as at the time of death the original wound could be said to be "an operatng cause and a substantial cause" even though there are other operating causes


  • This seems reasonable as the D caused the injury in the first place so it seems right that was the one ho gets the punishment
  • He also must have realised there was apossibility of death due to severity fo the injuries and weapon
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R v Cheshire 1991


  • D shot  in thigh and stomach durign a fight making the V needed a tracheotomy
  • 2 months later the wounds were almost healed when he died of rare complication
  • Doctors filed to dspot the condition thinking they had anxiety/ panic attacks after the shooting
  • D still convicted of murder


  • Beldam LJ said the test was whether  Ds acts contributed significantly to Vs death.
  • Medicl treatment was not independant of Ds original act


  • This sets a fair and stright priciple which can be used in future cases.
  • It was only in the most exceptional cases that medical treatment could break the chain of causation
  • As medicall errors asre sadly very common so cannot be judged as severely in the law
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R v Malcherek 1981


  • D stabbed his wife who was taken to hospital and put on life support- had 2 heart failures in hosp
  • After 10 days she had irretrivetable brain damage- switched off life support
  • D guilty of murder


  • This did not break the chain of causation
  • CofA saw it as biazarre that doctors would be in any way responsible


  • Protects doctors who are only acting in the patients best interesta dn also to please/ keep the family safe
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Actions of a 3rd Party: Drug Adminstration

  • Fully voluntary acts break the chain of causation
  • CofA have a checkered history concerneing drug admin cases

This has been resolved in Kennedy no2 2007

  • HofLsaid that if D supplied drugs to V (fully informed adult, vol decision) to self inject then they can never be guilty of maslaughter
  • The law won't treat one adult causing another adult to act in a certain way if they are of sound monf and voluntarily made the decision
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R v Roberts 1971


  • V jumped form a moving car in order to escape unwanted sexual advances


  • D was held to be liable for her injuries
  • Her response was preportional tot he threat
  • Her actions didnt break the chain of causation


  • Protects the public further as they are safe to act with courage to escape attack
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R v Majoram 2000

  • Facts
  • V was a 16year old
  • D forced open Vs hotel room door after being abusive outside
  • At this point V fell/jumped from the window- serious injuries
  • D maintained he broke down the door because he heard the window opening and wanted to rescue the vicitm


  • Cof A upheld GBH (s20) conviction
  • Jury were allowed to find Vs decision not daft


  • This case required the CofA to consider the age and sex of the victim thereby looking atheire style of judgement and hat they would consider daft
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R v Lewis 2010


  • D chased V into road following arguement
  • V killed by car


  • CofA dismissed Ds appeal- 2 requirements of causation in death during flight from an unlawful act
  • 1) there must be cause and effect- but for Ds actions flight and death would nt have happened
  • 2) the nature of flight must be a foreseeable consequence of the unlawful act (it wasnt impossible)
  • In this case the acts of the victim were foreseeable
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R v Williams and Davis 1992


  • V was a hitchhiker who jumped from moving car when D tried to steal his wallet
  • V died


  • The chain of causation is broken by a completely voluntary act by the V
  • CofA held Vs death ahd to be foreseeable and in proportion to the threat- it wasnt
  • It must be "within the ambit of reasonableness" and cant be so daft that i causes a "novus actus intervieniens and broke the chain of causation"


  • Seems reasonable as the threat of stealing a wallet is not really justifiable by jumping out of a car V was not in fear of his life and could have just given up the wallet
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Self neglect by the victim

If V mistreats/doesnt treat injuries then they are not liable for their death as they have not broke the chain and are allowed to be scared, misinformed or irrational in regards to medical care

R v Holland 1841


  • D cut V on finger with peice of metal
  • Wound became infected he ignored medical advice it should be amputated and died


  • D was guilty it made no difference that he died then or died later


  • slippery slope
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R v Dear 1996


  • D slashed V several times with Stanley knife- severed artery
  • D claimed V had commited suicide- by deliberately reopening the wound/opening themselves


  • D was guilty- jury were entitled to find guilty if Vs wound remained an operating and substantial cause of death


  • To cut an artery is very severe and very difficult to treat yourself so it is understandable that the V died and that D should be responsible

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Naturally Occuring Events

D is not liable for a naturally occuring event e.g. V left in building unconscious which was hit by an earthquake

However if the event was reasonable foreseeable they are liable e.g. V left on beach unconscious and tide comes in

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