topic raises the question of whether Willow and Xander are held criminally
liable for Larry’s death by assessing the possible offences and defences that
may apply. In order to decide the extent of their criminal liability, if any, a
number of criteria need to be considered.
may be held criminally liable for murder. The actus reus of a murder is an
unlawful killing by the defendant given that the victim was a person and the
victim died. In Bland1, Lord Goff stated that causing
a patient’s death through euthanasia to prevent him from suffering is still considered
an intention to cause death, as euthanasia is an unlawful act at common law.
the defendant must have caused the victim’s death to be accused for murder. Causation
is established through the ‘But For’ test which questions whether any harm
would have risen without the defendant’s actions. In White2, the court held that White
was not responsible for his mother’s death, as both factual and legal causation
are required to assume that the defendant has caused a death.
the defendant’s act, in this case of Willow, there may be an intervening act
before death, such as Xander’s wrong turning, which contributes to the death of
the victim. Smith3 suggests that if the death
of the victim was because of two separate causes, but the defendant’s act is ‘an
operating and substantial cause’ of death, the defendant would still be responsible.
ambulance driver, Xander, takes a wrong turning that leads to delay and by the
time he reaches hospital, Larry dies. Nevertheless, the cutting of brake cables
by Willow can still be considered a significant cause of Larry’s death, therefore
the chain of causation may not be broken by Xander’s careless driving.
the intervening act comes from within the victim and is unreasonable, it may
break the chain of causation. In Blaue4, the victim required a
blood transfusion to survive after being stabbed by Blaue, but as she was a
Jehovah’s Witness, she refused. Although the defendant said that the victim could
not refuse the transfusion and the chain of causation could be broken, as her
act was unreasonable, the court held that Blaue was still responsible given that
the victim was entitled to have certain religious beliefs.
chain of causation may be broken if the victim’s acts are free, voluntary and
informed. In our case, Larry was driving carelessly and was not wearing a
helmet during the crash, believing that they are ‘only for girls’. As Larry’s
intervention was voluntary, it could break the chain of causation and Willow
may not be convicted for murder.
mens rea element is also required for someone to be accused for murder. It
would have to be verified that Willow intended to kill or cause grievous bodily
harm to Larry through a direct or oblique intent. Direct intention, as
supported in Moloney5, arises where the
defendant’s purpose is to kill or cause serious bodily harm and will be treated
as failure if it does not occur. Oblique intention, as applied in Woollin6, occurs where death or
serious bodily harm is a virtual certainty due to the actions of the defendant,
considering some unforeseen intervention. The defendant must have appreciated that
his actions would lead to this outcome.
cutting of brake cables by Willow may be treated as recklessness. In Cunningham7, the court held that
maliciousness means either an actual intention to do a specific kind of harm,
or recklessness as to whether this harm would exist. The defendant has to
foresight the risk by taking a decision to harm and the risk must be unjustified.
our case, it is less obvious whether Willow intends to cause serious bodily
harm, as she does not want Larry to be seriously hurt. Willow must have
foreseen the particular kind of harm, but she still decides to take that risk,
implying that she is being reckless. Therefore, as recklessness is not part of
the mens rea element of murder, she cannot be accused for murder.
Manslaughter – Partial defence of loss of self-control
Willow may be accused for voluntary manslaughter. Voluntary manslaughter
has the same characteristics as murder with the exception that the defendant is
able to rely on partial defences. If Willow has established
the mens rea required for murder, this conviction may be avoided through a
partial defence of loss of self-control.
to the Coroners and Justice Act8, the loss of self-control needs
to satisfy three elements.
the defendant must actually lose self-control. In Duffy9, it was held that
‘provocation would cause in any reasonable person, a sudden and temporary loss
of self-control’, as that moment the person was not conscious of his acts. In
our case, Willow lost her self-control, as Larry was bullying her since primary
the loss of self-control must be due to a qualifying ‘triggering event’. This
arises when there is a fear of extreme violence, or when a grave character is
formed through certain things said or done. This would allow the defendant to
have a justification for his wrong behaviour. As implied in Clinton10, sexual infidelity is not
a qualifying triggering event if it is the only reason to base this defence. Therefore,
Larry’s sexual intercourse with Tara should not be the only reason for Willow relying
on the defence of loss of self-control.
the final element of this defence is the use of the objective test. In Camplin11, the court held that the
jury must be allowed to consider the age and gender of the defendant. Applying
this test, a person of Willow’s gender, female, and age, sixteen, having a
normal degree of tolerance and self-restraint would have acted in the same or a
similar way in the situation of Willow.
as all three elements apply, Willow can rely on the partial defence of loss of
self-control and her conviction for murder may be substituted by voluntary
conviction of a murder relies on both the mens rea and actus reus. Although
Xander contributes to the death of Larry, through his careless turning to a
bumpy street, there is no intention to kill or cause serious bodily harm.
Therefore, as the element of mens rea does not exist, he cannot be convicted
may be accused for involuntary manslaughter. This offence occurs through an
unlawful and dangerous act or through gross negligence. In Newbury
& Jones12, it
was held that the defendant intentionally performed an act that was unlawful,
dangerous and caused death.
distinction between an unlawful and a negligently performed lawful act is
evident in Andrews13,
where the defendant was convicted for manslaughter through gross negligence and
not through an unlawful act. His careless driving was a lawful act negligently
performed that went beyond dangerous and had killed a pedestrian.
negligence manslaughter is supported in Adomako14,
where the defendant owes a duty of care towards the victim. The lack of duty of
care should be the cause of death and must be so serious to be characterized as
gross negligence and thus as a crime.
although Xander contributes to the death of Larry and could be convicted for involuntary
manslaughter, the wrong turning he takes is not so serious to assume gross
negligence and is a lawful act negligently performed. Consequently, Xander
cannot be accused for involuntary manslaughter, but can be held liable only for
Willow and Xander are held criminally liable for Larry’s death to some extent.
As Willow has a partial defence of loss of self-control, her conviction for
murder may be substituted by voluntary manslaughter. Xander cannot be accused
for either murder or involuntary manslaughter, but can be held liable for
negligence due to the careless turning he takes. Nevertheless, as it is not
obvious whether the brake cable damaged by Willow was the cause of the crash,
this may suggest that Willow’s liability for voluntary manslaughter may be excluded.
Therefore, Willow and Xander may not be liable for homicide offences.
1 Airedale NHS Trust v Bland 1993 AC 789 (HL)
2 R v White 1910 2 KB 124 (CCA)
3 R v Smith 1959 2 QB 35 (Courts Martial Appeal Court)
4 R v Blaue 1975 1 WLR 1411 (CA)
5 R v Moloney 1985 AC 905 (HL)
6 R v Woollin 1999 AC 82 (HL)
7 R v Cunningham 1957 2 QB 396 (CCA)
8 Coroners and Justice Act 2009, S.54, S.55
9 R v Duffy 1949 1 All ER 932 (Devlin J) (CCA )
10 R v Clinton 2012 EWCA Crim.2 (CA)
11 Camplin 1978 2 All ER 168 (HL)
12 DPP v Newbury & Jones 1976 2 ALL ER 365 (HL)
13 Andrews v DPP 1937 AC 576 (HL)
14 Adomako 1995 1 AC 171 (HL)