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  • Level: GCSE
  • Subject: Law
  • Word count: 3710

Discover whether, in the criminal law, negligence ever breaks the chain of causation and to determine the circumstances if this is ever so

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The object of this essay is to attempt to discover whether, in the criminal law, negligence ever breaks the chain of causation and to determine the circumstances if this is ever so. In order to do this it is necessary to first identify what causation is. In basic terms, causation is simply a question of who or what caused a specific event to happen. For example, in a result crime, it must be proved that the defendant's conduct caused the forbidden consequence. If this cannot be proved, D is not guilty of the crime. Obviously then, causation is an important issue. It is not, however, always a contentious one, as in many cases the cause is obvious and not disputed. Questions on causation usually arise in cases of murder. In order to be guilty of murder you must have caused an acceleration of death. It makes no difference if the victim was already sick, injured or dying, as it can be said that since we will all die someday, we are all dying anyway. As Lord Alverstone CJ said in Dyson1: - "The proper question to have been submitted to the jury was whether the prisoner accelerated the child's death by the injuries which he inflicted in December, 1907. For if he did, the fact that the child was already suffering from meningitis, from which it would in any event have died before long, would afford no answer to the charge of causing its death." Causation is in some sense a difficult area of the law. As The Criminal Law and Penal Reform Committee in south Australia stated2: - "There is no more intractable problem in the law, than causation." Causation can be split into two parts, factual causation and legal causation. The issue of factual causation is generally one for jury to decide. However, when answering the question, they must apply the legal principles that the judge has explained to them. ...read more.


An example of this principle can be seen in Holland11. In this case D attacked V and seriously injured V's finger. V was advised by doctors to have his finger amputated, but refused. He subsequently contracted tetanus and died. D was held liable for the death despite his defence that the wound he inflicted on V only became life threatening because of V's neglect of it. As J.C. Smith says12: - "Maule J's direction to the jury reflected the common laws answer to the problem. He who inflicted an injury which resulted in death could not excuse himself by pleading that his victim could have avoided death by taking greater care of himself." Another example comes from Smith13. The victim was stabbed by D in a brawl. On the way to the dressing station the V was dropped several times and received "thoroughly bad" medical treatment once he got there. V subsequently died. Giving his judgment on the case lord Parker CJ said14: - "If at the time of death the original wound is still an operating and 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." The wound inflicted by D was held to be an operating and substantial cause of V's death so his conviction for murder was upheld. This is a clear case of medical negligence failing to break the chain of causation. The operative cause principle also applies in Malcherek15. In this case D wounded V to the extent that she required surgery. V underwent the surgery and seemed to be recovering, when she suffered a relapse and was placed on a life support machine. Doctors then found her to be "brain dead" and turned off the machine. D argued that the doctors should not have turned the machine off, but it was D who was on trial, not the doctors and evidence from other doctors who might not have turned the machine off could not be admitted. ...read more.


Or to put it another way, when V does something "daft". An example can be found in Roberts26, where V was traveling in a car with D who made sexual advances towards her. V then jumped out of the moving vehicle and sustained injuries. D was held liable. It is because of this confusion that it has been said that the rule of "you take your victim as you find him" should be left to the law of tort. Nonetheless, we can see from the Blaue case that a persons refusal of medical treatment for whatever reason will not break the chain of causation. This is clear since the wounds inflicted by D to require the medical treatment will be the operating cause of V's death. This essay has sought to identify if and when negligence can break the chain of causation in criminal law. It has attempted to do this by concentrating on medical treatment cases and by examining the way the chain can be broken and the criteria that the prosecution must satisfy to prove a defendant criminally responsible for a victim's death. In conclusion it is extremely difficult to break the chain of causation, especially in cases where negligent medical treatment is involved. For the chain to be broken in this way, the negligence must not only be so terrible as to be enough to cause the death in itself, but must also occur at a time when the original injuries inflicted by D are no longer seen to be an operating cause of V's death. This is virtually nonexistent. The law works in this way, as the courts are extremely reluctant to place the blame for patient's deaths on doctors who are trying to save peoples lives. It is apparent that the Judiciary, through the development of case law, have reached the conclusion, that with few exceptions. The chain of causation will not be broken by medical negligence. ...read more.

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