'Law should encourage citizens in their civic duty to do "the right thing" in a moral sense and not turn a blind eye or fail to act to help someone who is in need.' Consider to what extent the criminal law relating to omissions reflects this.

Authors Avatar by jmpcolleygmailcom (student)

An omission is where an individual fails to act when they had a duty to do so. By failing to act, they are breaching their duty, which constitutes as the actus reus for a crime. The basic rule for an omission was outlined by Stephen J, a 19th Century Judge – ‘A sees B drowning and is able to save him by holding out his hand. A abstains from doing so in order that B may be drowned. A has committed no offence.’ This states that an omission cannot make someone guilty of an offence. However, there are some exceptions to this rule.

In current law, there are 6 duties that make an individual legally responsible and liable for any failure to act. The first duty is a statutory duty, a duty that has been defined in a statute/piece of legislation. An example of this duty is the Road Traffic Act 1988, where an individual is liable for failing to stop at or report a traffic accident.  The second duty is a contractual duty, a duty that has been outlined in a contract an individual has signed. An example of this duty is the case of Pittwood, where a railway-crossing keeper omitted to shut the gates, resulting in a person crossing and being hit by the oncoming train and the defendant was convicted of manslaughter. The third duty is a duty through relationship, where a person is responsible for the care of another through their family relationship with that person. An example of this would be the case of Gibbins and Proctor where a father deliberately starved his 7 year old daughter to death, and both he and his partner were convicted of murder. The fourth duty is a duty that has been taken on voluntarily. An example of this would be the case of Stone and Dobinson, where Stone and Dobinson took Stone’s eccentric sister under their care, and the sister died from malnutrition. Both defendants were liable for manslaughter. The fifth duty is a duty through one’s official position. An example of this would be the case of Dytham, where a police officer saw a fight outside a nightclub, and decided to go off duty, resulting in him being convicted of misconduct in a public office. The final duty is a duty which arises because the defendant has set in motion a chain of events. An example of this would be the case of Miller, where the defendant fell asleep with a cigarette, and set his mattress alight. He then went into the adjacent room and slept in there whilst the fire continued. He was convicted of arson.

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There are some exceptions to these duties, however, as doctors are not liable if they decide to discontinue treating patients in their own interest. They are only liable in cases of incompetence, as shown in the case of Adomako, where the defendant, an anaesthetist, failed to realise that one of the tubes supplying oxygen to the patient was disconnected. This resulted in the patient having a heart attack and dying six months later. It was decided that a competent doctor would have noticed the disconnection within 15 seconds, which the defendant did not, therefore, he was guilty of gross negligence ...

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