Criminal Law Omissions. In the English legal system there is generally no liability for an omission to act, the English legal system does not have a good Samaritan rule neither is there no duty of easy rescue.

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In the English legal system there is generally no liability for an omission to act, the English legal system does not have a ‘good Samaritan rule’ neither is there ‘no duty of easy rescue’. Fitzjames Stephen gave a classical example of ‘A seeing 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 will have committed no offence.’  This example clearly shows that there is no positive duty for B to act, even though B holding his hand out may have saved A’s life.

This is a controversial issue as the law allows one to watch a person drown without them being prosecuted for any offence. However in some European countries this is different such as in France and Germany where there is a duty of easy rescue and failure to do so will amount to a criminal offence.

   As I have earlier said generally there is no liability for failing to act, however there are six exceptions and if a person fails to act then they will be committing a criminal law offence, there is a vast amount of case law in this field which will be used to illustrate the exceptions to an omission.

   The first exception I will discuss is a special relationship, this is where the law will require an individual to act where there is a special relationship, it is generally recognised the more closer the relationship the more likely the law will impose a duty.  Such as a parent and child relationship.  In Downes 1875  which is an early authority on how the law imposes a duty on a special relationship in this case the father failed to provide appropriate medical assistance to their child, they were a religious family and instead of seeing a doctor they were hopeful that the child would be healed by his parents religious prayers, however the child died and the parents sought no medical attention for an ill child so the courts found they were guilty of manslaughter as s47 of the poor law amendment act 1868 had imposed a duty on them and the courts went with this statute to convict Downes.  As the simple duty of seeking medical assistance for their child may have saved his life.

   Another case which confirms parents have a responsibility over their children is Gibbons and Proctor 1918 in this case the defendants failed to feed their 7 year old daughter who died of starvation, Gibbons the father of the child was found guilty of murder for failing on his duty as he clearly had a special relationship, Proctor who was Gibbons’ girlfriend was given money by Gibbons but failed to buy the child any food and as she was living with them a duty was also imposed on Proctor as she should of used the money provided by Gibbons for food.

   The law will not only impose a duty for special relationship for parent child relationships but will also impose a duty for other instances such as spouses as in Smith 1979  the defendants wife had a phobia of doctors, so gave birth at home however things went wrong and the baby was still born and there were other complications which affected the health of the victim and the defendant resisted calling an ambulance his wife died, the defendant was charged with manslaughter.

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   Another situation where there is a special relationship is between doctors and patients, doctors must provide adequate care. In Airedale NHS trust v Bland , the case involved a doctor-patient special relationship where a victim from the Hillsborough disaster had irreversible brain damage and could only live artificially with the help from a life support machine, the NHS trust and the family decided in the best interest of the patient would be to end his treatment, however the doctors wanted assurance from the courts if it is permissible for them to switch off the machines, the House of Lords held ...

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Well done. This student really understands the six categories of omissions-based conduct that might amount to criminal behaviour. To improve the mark, the student should make reference to less commonly cited, and recent, case law. High 4 Stars.