As a defense, this was an act performed for the purpose of self-preservation, being of course itself an act caused by Aisha’s own actions. His action may ensue as a result of fright, caused by Aisha’s anger bringing about a physiological reaction in Bill to jump. The applicable test is whether Bill’s reaction was within a range of responses, which might be expected from a victim in his situation.3 If the reaction was so unwise as to make it Bill's own ‘voluntary act’ the chain of causation is broken.
Considering that Bill was a karate teacher and therefore should have been able to defend himself, Aisha most probably did not foresee that Bill would behave in an extraordinary fashion. On the other hand, no information on Aisha’s physique is supplied, she threatened Bill and was violent; hence Bill’s escape was well grounded on the apprehension of immediate violence on Aisha’s entry, and therefore reasonably to be expected. Bill’s escape left him with a broken leg due to his awkward landing, which further expresses his panic and fright.
Since Aisha’s act did not cause instantaneous death and there was subsequently a developing and complex chain of events we must bear in mind that her liability may be reduced.
Secondly we must consider the liability of Carl, the psychopath. Where the AR of an offence requires conduct on the part of the accused, whether an act or an omission, liability will only accrue where the conduct is willed. The actus reus has to be voluntary and considering that Carl was a psychopath, he may therefore not liable. Usually a person who is in a state of automatism at the time is not liable. This is because any “internal factor”, mental or physical is, in law, a disease of the mind.
Carl moved Bill to the beach, which was a novus actus interveniens, that is an intervening act. This can be either a voluntary act or omission of an informed human third party, or secondly it can be an act of God. If it was an intervening act it is not significant for Carl, it is only significant for Aisha, since it relieves her of liability. Also Carl’s actions put Bill in a dangerous situation; a person with control over his mental state would be able to comprehend the danger of leaving a victim on the beach because of the incoming tide.
Bill’s presence on the beach was a contributing factor to the cause of his death but Edward did not put him in this dangerous situation. Since Edward did not have the intention whatsoever to call for assistance, the question is whether the omission to telephone the ambulance was also a cause to Bill’s death. His death would have occurred precisely the same way if his nephew, Edward, had not passed by. Edward is Bill’s nephew, and this relationship is seen by the law as a valid reason valid to impose a duty to act.
Even though Edward had the duty to act because he was family, the information given states that he “simply ignored Bill’s plea” for help, which implies that Edward did not see himself under the obligation or responsibility to seek help. In Gibbins and Proctor4 a man and woman with whom he was living were convicted of murder of the man’s child by withholding food. The father had breached the duty owed by parents to care for their children while Proctor, by taking money to buy food, had assumed a duty towards the child. Edward in this case showed no assumption of a duty by promising to telephone the ambulance, because he had no intention to do so.
There is a stronger case for imputing the duty concept in connection with close and similar relationships. So in R v. Instan5 where the niece failed to summon medical assistance for her aunt who died of gangrene, the court talks of a duty founded in moral obligation. In law, of course the niece has no duty whatever to look after her aunt. Had she been paying a casual visit to her aunt, noticed that her aunt would die without prompt medical attention, but had left without taking any measures of assistance then surely the case would have been decided differently. Even though as a matter of law Edward had the obligation as a relative to act, the facts show no sign of a close relationship for that duty to act to be acknowledged by Edward.
* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *
In the second problem, when discussing Tim’s liability for the death of Dave, the sequence of events leading up to the death must be carefully analysed. Several complicated events occur before Dave’s heart attack. The major problem arising is whether Tim is liable where the original wound had healed before death and another intervening actions caused death. Secondly is whether Tim is responsible for the death where Dave died as a result of some subsequent acts or events which would have caused death in just the same way even if Tim had not inflicted the injury.
Firstly, Dave is admitted to hospital after Tim wounded him. Dave caught an antibiotic-resistant disease while he was under medical treatment for this wound. The introduction into the system of the victim of this substance shown to be poisonous is a factor, which in all probability endangered his life, but it does not necessarily follow that it was, in law, a cause of the death.6 Anti-biotics are very routine drugs since they are used for all sorts of minor illnesses; in this case it is part of the normal treatment for Dave’s wound so Tim is liable if that treatment produces nasty side effects to Dave because it is "normal treatment". However, the powerful drugs were administered, in my view, grossly negligently, as the doctor failed to read information that he had at his disposal, so this broke the chain of causation.
It is clear that the act of the accused need not be the sole or main cause of death; however, it is wrong to assume that Tim is not liable if he is less than one-fifth to blame.7 In Dyson it is immaterial that the blows would not have caused death sine qua non (but for) the meningitis. Moreover, in Dalloway8, if the defendant had not been driving the cart at all the incident could not have occurred; and in that sense, he caused it. But it was necessary to go further and show that the death was due to the culpable element in his act - the negligence in not using the reins.
The wrongful intervention of a third party may break to chain of causation. Medical treatment is not always competent. When should incompetent treatment be regarded as ‘taking over’ as the cause of death? One argument would be that a defendant who put the victim in need of medical treatment should be liable, however bad that treatment turned out to be. This would be consistent with the principle that “take your victim as u find her”.
In the problem, The depression that caused Dave to un-pick his wounds, assuming that the depression was caused wholly by the drugs, or so significantly by the drugs that the wound was no longer a significant cause, then Tim escapes liability. If otherwise, then not because of the fact that the drugs were not part of normal treatment for a wound. In terms of causation, Tim could be blamed for the death, because his impact is more than negligible. The chain of causation would only be broken if the victim acted only for some reason unconnected to the attack on him. The court will look at the dead victim and ask how significant was Tim’s attack? And how significant was Doctor's mistake? The defence would be that the deceased attempted to commit suicide either by reopening to open his wound, or by the wound having reopened themselves, by failing to take steps to stop the bleeding.
The heart attack is most definitely a novus actus interveniens. This is unless the attack and all the trauma of being in hospital helped make the pre-existing condition worse to the point of a heart attack. It is sometimes said that intended consequences cannot be too remote. This however, is not always true, for the sin qua non rule remains applicable. Thus in White9 the consequence intended by D – the death of his mother - occurred; but its occurrence had nothing to do with D’s act in administering the poison and would have happened just the same if D had done nothing. Even where the sin qua non rule is satisfied, the consequence, though intended, may be too remote.
Once the injury has been inflicted, it seems that the victim can act as ‘irrationally’ as she likes without the chain of causation being broken. Where the victim chooses to forego treatment, refusing the blood transfusion, which would save her life, the victim contributes in other ways to their failure to recover; this will not avail the defendant10. In Jordan the original wound had healed whereas in Smith and Malcherek the original wounds were still operating at the time of death. However when discussing the liability of Tim after considering Dave’s refusal of blood transfusion, the issue is whether Tim caused the death of Dave, not whether the wound inflicted caused the victim’s death11. Even though the actual wound may have healed, the re-opening of the wound re-enforced that the initial injury was an operating and substantial (in a sense “more than minimal”) cause of death.
If the heart attack had not occurred and Dave had ‘bled’ to death instead by re-opening his wound, then his negligence may contributed to his own death. Where the victim brings about his own death this may be legally attributable to the accused where he has caused the victim reasonably to apprehend violence to himself and had died in seeking to escape12. In such a situation Tim will only be found to have caused Dave’s injuries or death where Dave’s response to Tim’s violence or threat of violence was “within the range of responses whish he was” and it must be “proportionate to the treat”.13
Taking the two intermediate events in problem two: the refusal of blood transfusion and re-opening of the wound. If the victim mistreats or neglects to treat injuries perpetrated by the accused, this will not prevent legal attribution of the responsibility to the accused where death results. But if there was not heart attack then Dave would have definitely bled to death, and Tim would be held liable for the death.
1 Thabo Meli v. R (1954) All ER 373 (PC)
2 D.P.P. v. Daley (1979) 2 WLR 239: in the judgment summary of Lord Keith Kinkel
3 Williams and Davis (1991) 95Cr App Rep
4 (1918) 13 Cr App Rep 134, CCA
5 (1893) 1 Q.B. 450
6 R v. Jordan (1956) 40 Cr. App R 153
7 R v. Henningham (1971) 3 All ER 133
8 (1847) 2 Cox CC 273
9 (1910) 2 KB 124
10 R v. Dear (1996)
11 R v. Cheshire (1991) 1 WLR 844
12 R v. Blaue (1975) 3 All ER 446
13 Williams (1992) 2 All ER 183: the wound inflicted made no difference whether the wound was still mortal or whether by the deceased not adopting the best mode of treatment. The court decided that in the end the wound was the cause of death.