R v Roberts (1972)

English Criminal Law

R v Roberts
‘Escape’ by Anna Dart

In a case involving assault occasioning actual bodily harm, the defendant appealed on grounds that an irrational act on the part of the alleged victim was sufficient enough to constitute ‘novus actus interveniens’, thereby breaking the chain of causation and defeating the charges held against them.

In spring of 1971, the victim was an engaged twenty-something who having spent some time together at a party, had decided to join the appellant in car journey in the early hours of the morning. It was during the journey that the appellant had misled the victim as to where they were headed, after which he attempted to have sex with her, despite her immediate protestations.

Having then asked to be taken home, the appellant threatened to force her to walk back if she failed to comply with his demands, but not before he had physically assaulted her. It was at this point that he attempted to remove her coat whilst driving at speed, thereby forcing her to open the passenger door and jump out, thus suffering from mild concussion and numerous contusions as a result of her escape.

Having wandered to the nearest house, she was taken in and then safely escorted to hospital for treatment and a three-day stay with lengthy cross-examination. At trial, the judge explained to the jury that in order to find the appellant guilty, they needed to be certain that it was his actions alone that had led to the victim’s injuries, and that his efforts to disrobe her against her will were tantamount to an assault.

Using the exact words:

“[I]f you accept the evidence of the girl in preference to that of the man, that means that there was an assault occasioning actual bodily harm, that means that she did jump out as a direct result of what he was threatening her with, and what he was doing to her, holding her coat, telling her he had beaten up girls who had refused his advances, and that means that through his acts he was in law and in fact responsible for the injuries which were caused to her by her decision, if it can be called that, to get away from his violence, his threats, by jumping out of the car.”

The jury were directed as to ensure they were satisfied that the two acts were inextricably linked, and that unless they could, beyond any reasonable doubt, identify and connect them, the appellant was to escape the charge held under s.47 of the Offences Against the Person Act 1861. It was then found by the jury that despite reservations as to the weight of both parties arguments, the actions of the appellant were directly contributive to the illogical action of the victim and so the charge was upheld.

Upon appeal, the argument presented was that the judge had failed to factor the foreseeability by the appellant of the victim’s actions at the time the offence took place, and that when testing for assault, this aspect of the jury direction was absent. In response, the Court held that as was explained in R v Beech, the judge had rightly asked:

“Will you say whether the conduct of the prisoner amounted to a threat of causing injury to this young woman, was the act of jumping the natural consequence of the conduct of the prisoner, and was the grievous bodily harm the result of the conduct of the prisoner?”

And that at no point in English law had a prerequisite for the defendant’s mindset existed, as to allow such an obligation would immediately nullify any conviction held against them. It was then for this salient reason that the Court dismissed the appeal and secured the original conviction.

R v Kennedy (2007)

English Criminal Law

R v Kennedy
‘California Poppies’ by Lynda Reyes

The domestic criminal law principle of ‘free will’ within the confines of substance abuse, is a question that by extension, remains fraught with uncertainty (with particular regard to Class A substances). In this drug related death case, the issue before the court was fundamentally one of autonomy versus conjoined culpability.

When two drug users were engaging in social discourse, the now deceased party asked the appellant to prepare a syringe of heroin, so that he might be able to sleep that evening. After preparing the drug in the manner requested, the appellant left the room, before the deceased self-injected the measured dose. Minutes afterwards, the user was found breathless, and pronounced dead upon arrival at the nearest hospital.

When heard during the original trial, the appellant was convicted of supplying a class A drug under s.4(1) of the Misuse of Drugs Act 1971 and administering the drug under s.23 of the Offences Against the Person Act 1861. These two offences were then tantamount to a charge of manslaughter, and sentence was set at eight years, with five of those under imprisonment. When the defendant appealed, the judges unflinchingly upheld the conviction, and it so was that when the Criminal Cases Review Commission studied the finer details of the case, that it was bought again before the Court of Appeal, where despite strongly presented contentions, it was summarily dismissed and left to the defendant to seek final appeal in the House of Lords. 

With a need for investigation surrounding the notion that administration implied contributory action on the part of the supplier, it was eventually made clear that the pervious judges had become victim to self-misdirection, despite distinguishing case citations presented throughout the appeals. Ultimately the doctrine of novus actus interveniens  was sufficiently present enough for the injecting party to have acted under free will, and an appreciation of the inherent risks associated with heroin abuse; and that while the first offence (which itself carried a prison sentence) remained intact, the charge of manslaughter could not stand, when held against the perhaps better appreciated evidence now on display.