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Causation

There are two types of causation. Causation in fact and causation in law.
In order to establish a causation in fact, we must first check if the result
would not have occurred but for what the defendant did. The prosecution would
then have established Causation in Fact. The but for test whether or not the
defendant has caused the result. As was the principle in the R v White case. The
defendant had placed cyanide in his mothers drink with the intention to kill her.
However, his mother died of a heart attack before the poison could take effect.
Since it was the heart attack and not the poison that killed her. He is not guilty of
murder. The defendant is only criminally liable if his actions caused the result.
Therefore if his actions did not contribute to the result or can be said to be trivial.
He cannot be accused of a crime. Similarly in the case of R v Dalloway [1847]
where a child ran into the road and was struck by the cart wheel of the cart that
Dalloway was driving and was killed. It was decided that as the defendant could
not have prevented the childs death, he could not be held liable. The But For is
merely a preliminary technique used to link ones actions with the outcome.
Causation in Law is however more detailed than that. This seeks to prove that
the Defendants action was the operating and substantial cause of the result as
was highlighted in the case of R v Smith.
There are instances where there is a break in the chain of causation. That
is, there is an intervening act or even before the consequent results occurs. If
this intervening act causes the result, that is, the result would have happened
even if the defendant hadnt done the unlawful act then the defendant is no
longer liable. This however has its limitations. If the result occurs due to a
combination of causes and the defendants action is still an operating and
substantial cause then the defendant is still liable. The principle of causation in
law is that the defendants actions were the operating and substantial cause of
the result. Operating meaning it is a cause of the result. The defendants action
need not be the sole or even the main cause of the result. While substantial
suggests that the action was more than trivial. This was the case of R v
Malcherek and Steel, the defendant had stabbed his wife causing her to be
placed on life support. The doctors switched off the machine after determining
that she was brain dead. Since the original wounds inflicted by the defendant
had been the operating and substantial cause of his wifes death he was charged
for murder.
If the victim dies as a result of some event that would not have occurred
but for the acts done by the defendant and was foreseeable as likely to occur in
the normal course of events. This was brought out in the case of R v Pagett
where the armed defendant used a girl as a shield while shooting at the police in
an attempt to resist arrest. The police fired back killing the girl. It was held that
the defendant had caused the death as the intervening act had been a
foreseeable consequence of his actions and had not broken the chain of
causation. Another intervening act that could not break the chain of causation is
the characteristic of the victim. This is as a result of the Thin Skull Rule, this
states that the defendant must take the victim as he finds him/her. Therefore if
the intervening act is a characteristic of the victim then it will not break the chain
of causation. This was the case of R v Blaue, Blaue stabbed the victim multiple
times. The victim happened to be a Jehovahs Witness. She refused to have the

crucial blood transfusion on religious grounds and thereafter died. The Judge held
that the defendant had to take his victim as she is, therefore the question for the
decision was what caused her death and the answer of course was the stab
wound.
Apart from the scenarios given above, problems in causation can also
occur in deaths caused by medical treatment. In the case of R v Jordan, Jordan
stabbed the victim who was taken to the hospital. The wounds healed however,
he died due to what was described as palpable wrong treatment. Since the
wounds had healed, they were no longer the substantial and operative cause of
the death. The death was instead caused by negligence in the form of palpable
wrong treatment. In R v Smith, it was highlighted that only if the original wound
had merely provided the setting in which another caused the death could it be
said that the death did not result as a result of the wound.
Another case that proves tricky is in Escape cases, this is where the
defendant drives such fear into the victim that the victim tries to escape and is
killed in the process. It was established in DPP v Daley and McGhie that the
defendant is liable if the victims fear was such that it cause him to try to escape
and that whilst trying to escape and because he was trying to escape he met his
death. The chain of causation can be broken if the victim does something so
daft or so unexpected that no reasonable man could foresee it as seen in R v
Williams and Davis where the defendant from a moving car and died because a
hitchhiker tried to rob him.