Highlights on Introduction to Causation in Criminal Law

Swipe left and right.

Introduction to Causation

Before an accused can be held accountable for an offence, it must be established that he caused or is responsible for the actus reus for that offence. For a person to be found guilty of murder, for instance, it must be shown that his actions or omissions caused the death of another.


R v Yeboah

Accused led a mob against victim, shouting thief thief!. Next day victim found died. Court held prosecution could not connect accused to death


Types of causation

1. Factual causation

2. Legal causation.


Factual Causation

The starting point of analysing causation and it entails the application of the “ but for” test. Thus, it must be proved that the prohibited event would not have happened “but for” the acts or omissions of the accused.


R v Yeboah (established but for test)

Accused put poison in mother's drink, she took sips, slept, and died in her sleep. Doctors fund it was due to heart attack and not the poison. If it was proved that victim would not have died but for the poison, he would have been guilty of murder. He was acquitted of murder but convicted on attempted murder.


Legal Causation

means that the acts of the accused must be an operative and substantial cause of the prohibited event.


The Need for Legal Causation

Sometimes the but for test can lead to absurdity. E.g the victim would not have been murdered but for the fact that he was born black. Hence his parents are responsible for his murder.


R v Smith

Soldier stabs comrade during training, other soldiers were conveying victim to hospital and dropped him twice. Doctors also failed to realize that the victim had a punctured lung. The court held that if the wound from the stab was still the operating and substantial cause of his death, then the accused was guilty (although others may have slightly contributed)


R v Benge

Benge was foreman of a group of men repairing rails at at a railway. He misread the train timetable, and this led to an accident with lots of people dying. Other persons contributed to the accident. Court held that the acts of the accused need not be the only cause of a prohibited event for him to be deemed to have caused the event and that it was irrelevant that the accident would not have occurred if other people had acted differently.


Novus actus interveniens

For both factual and legal causation, it must be shown that there was no new intervening event between the wrongdoer’s act and the occurrence of the prohibited event.


Effect of Novus Actus Interveniens

When there is a novus actus interveniens (new intervening act), it breaks the chain of causation between the actions of initial wrongdoer and the prohibited event and frees the initial wrongdoer from liability.


When Novus Actus Interveniens becomes a Defence

Essentially, the intervening act can only break the chain of causation if it was not reasonably foreseeable.


R v Roberts

Defendant offered lift to victim, begun sexually harassing her, she jumped and sustained injuries. Defendant was liable for the injuries because her act of jumping out was reasonably forseable


Rescue Attempts do Not Break Chain of Causation

In R v Smith, the doctor’s negligent acts, and the dropping of the stabbed soldier was found not to break the chain of causation


Contributory Negligence is not a New Intervening Act

In section 81 (d) of Act 29, it is provided that “except as in this section expressly provided, a person is not excused from liability to punishment for causing harm to another person, on the ground that the other person, by his trespass, negligence, act or omission, contributed to causing the harm.”


Causation under Act 29

Sections 13 covers causation under Act 29. In a murder case, however, section 64 makes various modifications


Section 13(1)

X causes an event even if he gets Y, an involuntary agent, to cause the event. See R v Micheal where defendant intended to kill her child, and the poison was finally admitted by another child to the defendant's child.


Section 13(2)

Defines who is an involuntary agent in 13(1)


Joint Causation (Section 13(3)

When persons jointly cause an event, each of the persons is deemed to have caused the event


Section 13(4)

A person shall not be convicted of having intentionally or negligently caused an event if, notwithstanding his act and the acts of any person acting jointly with him, the event would not have happened but for the existence of some state of facts or the intervention of some other event or some other person, the probability of the existence or intervention of which other event or person the accused person did not take into consideration, and had no reason to take into consideration. The provision shall not apply where a person is charged with having caused an event by an omission to perform a duty for averting the event


Section 13(6)

A person beyond the jurisdiction of the Courts, who causes a voluntary agent to cause an event within the jurisdiction, shall be deemed to have caused the event within the jurisdiction


Section 64(a)

the death of a person shall be held to have been caused by harm if, by reason of the harm, death has happened otherwise or sooner, by however short a time, than it would probably have happened but for the harm;


Thin Skull Rule

Section 64(b): it is immaterial that the harm would not have caused the person's death but for his infancy, old age, disease, intoxication, or other state of body or mind, at the time when the harm was caused;


R v Hayward

Victim had an abnormality of the thyroid gland that meant that fear in addition to physical exertion could cause her death. She died when chased by her husband. Court held accused was guilty.


Section 64(c)

Acts by the victim, such as refusal of medical treatment after the harm, are immaterial or do not break the chain of causation


Time Limits -Section 64(e)

death is not caused by harm unless the death takes place within a year and a day of the harm being caused