Crime XVII – Murder IV

When there is an unlawful application of force and death or serious injury results from the act the accused can be convicted for manslaughter. In R v Le Brun (1991) the accused punched his wife below the chin, a blow that in most instances depending on the force that is exerted will cause some form of injury or other and the probability is high that a blow delivered to the part of the body in the manner that it was i.e. a punch below the chin, would most likely cause some form of serious injury.

The blow rendered the victim unconscious and the defendant while attempting to move his unconscious wife dropped her and that resulted in the victim fracturing her skull which turned out to be the cause of death. The accused was convicted of manslaughter. The accused appealed the conviction on the grounds that it was not the blow that had caused the death.

The court in line with the decision in Thabo-Meli v R (1954) dismissed the appeal deciding that the act need not have caused the death. It was sufficient that the act was done to cause some form of harm or injury to the victim. It was the accused’s act of punching his wife below the chin that had rendered her unconscious and subsequently caused him to carry his wife and while doing so, drop her. The chain of causation remained intact and unbroken.

An accused can be convicted for manslaughter if he or she had caused an injury to a fetus and the fetus is born, albeit prematurely and the baby dies as a result of the injuries it had sustained while it was a fetus. In Attorney-General’s Reference (No.3 of 1994) the accused stabbed his girlfriend three times in various parts of her body including her stomach. She was 22 – 24 weeks pregnant at the time and slightly over a fortnight later, she delivered and though the baby was born premature it lived for 121 days before it died from the injuries sustained from the stabbing. The accused was charged on two counts: – 1) for causing grievous bodily harm to his girlfriend for which he was convicted and 2) for causing the death of the child i.e. murder.

On the second count, the question before the court was whether it is possible to cause GBH to a child that was in the mother’s womb and the question arose simply because the child was not yet born and did not have an identity or a personality of its own. The trial judge held that it was not possible to cause GBH to a child that was in the mother’s womb. The Attorney General referred the matter to the Court of Appeal on a point of law and the Court of Appeal held that the death of the baby was murder.

The accused appealed to the House of Lords who substituted the conviction for murder with that of manslaughter and clarified the law. It is possible to cause GBH to a child while it is in the mother’s womb if the child is then born and subsequently dies as a result of the injuries. The death of the child however could not be classed as murder because at the time the injuries were inflicted the child was not yet born and had not acquired an identity or a personality of its own.

Medical staff for example aestheticians can be convicted of manslaughter if they are found to be grossly negligent in their work and their negligence has led to the death of a patient. In R v Adomako (1994) the accused was an aesthetician who was in charge of administering anesthetics during an operation. While in surgery an oxygen pipe got disconnected and the patient died from the resulting complications. The accused was charged and convicted for manslaughter. The accused appealed. The Court of Appeal dismissed the conviction but the House of Lords upheld the conviction on the grounds that the cause of death was not recklessness but gross negligence in breach of a duty.

Doctors and surgeons will not be liable for manslaughter if they had to risk the life of one patient to save the life of another as per Re A (conjoined twins) (2001). The case involves two conjoined twins that were joined at the pelvis.

Medical evidence suggested that one twin was dependent on the other and if the doctors failed to operate both twins would die. However, if they did operate the chances were high that one of the twins would survive while the other would inevitable die.

The doctors sought the permission of the parents to operate and the parents refused. The doctors applied to the court to operate and the court after lengthy deliberations allowed the doctors to do so. The case was decided in the House of Lords and the decision is worth reading.

Copyright © 2018 by Dyarne Ward

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