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Causation - the 'but for' test.

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Introduction

CAUSATION - It must be proved by the court that the defendant caused the victims death even if he may not be the sole/main cause of death. It must be stressed that a death must be caused by the unlawful act of the assailant. However, in some cases, the defendant might not have been directly responsible for the final act which caused death but will still be liable for the homicide because he set in motion the chain of events which led to it. Causation is applicable to many offences but I will concentrate particularly on those cases involving fatal offences against the person, in the form of murder and manslaughter. * Establishing the chain of causation There are no rules laid down by statute to govern the concerns of causation; but principles have been established by case law, as each problem rose before the courts. In few cases it is difficult to distinguish whether the defendants conduct caused the death in question, but the jury must be convinced beyond reasonable doubt. ...read more.

Middle

R v Malcharek (1981) the assailant attacked a woman causing such injuries that she was put on a life support machine. In no hope of recovery the doctors decided to switch the life support machine off while she was "brain dead". Half an hour later she was pronounced dead - the def was convicted of murder and appealed on the grounds that the doctors had broken the chain of causation between the attack and the death of the victim by switching off the life machine - the court of appeal dismissed this. The substantial cause of death was due to the original wounds inflicted by the def not the "mere effect of the life support machine"; as soon as the machine had been switched off, the wounds continued to cause the death. * Natural consequences of the def's act - victim dies as result of some act/event which would not have occurred but for the act done by the def and which is a natural consequence of the def act - it was FORESEEABLE as likely to occur in the normal course of events; the def will still be held to have caused the death e.g. ...read more.

Conclusion

R v Jordan(1956) def stabbed V who was admitted to hospital and died 8 days later - in C/A, 'fresh evidence' of two doctors was allowed to the effect that (a) in their opinion death had not been caused by the stab wound, which was mainly healed at time of death, but by the medical treatment; (b) the victim had been given anti-biotic to which he was allergic to, and and large amounts of introvenous liquid; and (c) according to evidence the treatment was "palpably wrong", and the direct and immediate cause of death (pneumonia). To relieve the def of liability, the medical treatment must (a) be independant of the def's act and, (b) be potent in causing death, thus (c) reducing the def's act to insignificance. * Where the victim has tried to escape and caused himself harm - Mackie (1973) a manslaughter conviction was upheld when a father frightened his 3 yr old son so severely that the boy fell down the stairs and was killed. It is necessary in some cases to give a jury further guidance on the issue of causation, particularly where it is possible that the victims reaction was out of all proportion to the def's threat. SHAHNOOR BHUIYA ...read more.

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