R v Williams (Barry Anthony)

English Criminal Law

Williams (Barry Anthony)
‘Glastonbury Mud at Sunset’ by Kurt Jackson

The importance, if not imperative demonstration of causation lies at the heart of a case in which a jury was led to believe that manslaughter by way of robbery was unquestionably evident, when in fact the circumstances behind the event were such that prevented any reasonable direction, or sustainable conviction thereafter.

In June of 1989, the appellant was driving a vehicle with two passengers when a hitch-hiker attempted to obtain a lift to Glastonbury Festival. Having entered the car, the now deceased was subjected to what was held as a pre-meditated robbery attempt, during which he threw himself from the vehicle at speed, an action that resulted in severe head trauma and his subsequent death.

Upon indictment to the Bristol Crown Court, the appellant and the co-defendants were accused of threatening the victim so as to take all of his money, whereupon he had reluctantly offered to pay a nominal sum to the appellant rather than risk suffering possible violence while travelling inside the car.

Despite a lack of causative evidence aside from the witness testimonies of the three men accused, the presiding judge explained to the jury that:

“[W]hat he was frightened of was robbery, that this [money] was going to be taken from him by force, and the measure of the force can be taken from his reaction to it. The prosecution suggest that if he is prepared to get out of a moving car, then it was a very serious threat involving him in the risk of, as he saw it, serious injury.”

And so when reaching a verdict, the jury held that two of the men were guilty of manslaughter, with the appellant found to have been the one threatening the victim shortly before his death, a decision which was challenged in the Court of Appeal on grounds of misdirection and lack of causation between the actual threat and subsequent death.

Here the court turned to R v Roberts, in which the Court of Appeal had held that:

“[I]f of course the victim does something so “daft,” in the words of the appellant in this case, or so unexpected, not that this particular assailant did not actually foresee it but that no reasonable man could be expected to foresee it, then it is only in a very remote and unreal sense a consequence of his assault, it is really occasioned by a voluntary act on the part of the victim which could not reasonably be foreseen and which breaks the chain of causation between the assault and the harm or injury.”

While in R v Mackie, the court had further held that:

“Where the injuries are fatal, the [escape] attempt must be the natural consequence of an unlawful act and that unlawful act ‘must be such as all sober and reasonable people would inevitably recognise must subject the other person to, at least, the risk of some harm resulting therefrom, albeit not serious harm’….”

A fact that on this occasion, was far from proven, but instead relied upon the urgency of the judge when directing the jury. This translated that the court was unable to sustain the previous verdict of either count, as neither robbery nor manslaughter had been proven beyond any reasonable doubt, therefore the appeal was allowed in full, while the court held that in matters of manslaughter:

“[T]he nature of the threat is of importance in considering both the foreseeability of harm to the victim from the threat and the question whether the deceased’s conduct was proportionate to the threat….”

Author: Neil Egan-Ronayne

Legal Consultant, Author and Foodie...

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