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Actus Reus Notes

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Actus Reus-Voluntariness and Causation R v Lipman (CA 1969) Facts

* The defendant voluntarily consumed LSD and then murdered his friend while under the influence. Issue

* Voluntariness Judgment

* Widgery LJ

* For the purposes of ascertaining voluntariness there is no distinction between drugs voluntarily taken and drunkeness voluntarily induced.

* It may affect the mens rea but has no effect on the voluntariness of the actus reus

* Fenton Atkinson LJ (concurred)

* James LJ (concurred) R v Larsonneur (UK CCA 1933) Facts

* The plaintiff was a French citizen allowed into the UK on the condition that she leave on a certain date.

* On that date she went to Ireland from where she was deported back to the UK. Issue

* Voluntariness - State of Affairs Judgment

* Lord Chief Justice

* The statute requires only that a state of affairs exist (the alien being present in breach of the conditions of her being allowed to land) and if they exist then the crime has been committed.

* Avory J (concurred)

* Humphreys J (concurred) R v White (KB 1910) Facts

* The accused's mother had been found dead with a drink laced with cyanide beside her.

* The accused was shown to have purchased cyanide shortly before this happened but the medical evidence showed that cyanide had not been the cause of death. Issue

* Causation Judgment (Bray J)

* The actus reus did not cause death, hence the crime is attempted murder. R v Jordan (UK CCA 1956)


* The accused stabbed a man in a brawl and the victim was subjected to palpably wrong medical treatment (administered drugs to which he was allergic and abnormal quantities of intravenous liquid) and died.

* By the time the medical treatment was undertaken, the stab wound was mainly healed and drugs were administered not to treat it but to prevent infection. Issue

* Causation - Poor medical treatment Judgment (Hallett J)

* The symptoms which were the direct and immediate cause of death arose not out of the stabbing but out of the medical treatment.

* Thus the death had not been caused by the actions of the accused. R v Smith (CMAC 1959) Facts

* The accused stabbed a man during a fight.

* The victim had been dropped twice on the way to the hospital, and due to lack of time and other factors the doctors gave the wrong treatment, resulting in the victim's death. Issue

* Causation - Poor medical treatment Judgment (Lord Parker)

* If at the time of death, the original wound is an operating and substantial cause, then the death can be said to be caused by the wound.

* It is only where it can be said that the original wound is merely the setting in which another cause operates can it be said that the death is not caused by the wound i.e. only if the second cause is so overwhelming as to make the original wound merely part of the history, can it be said that the death does not flow from the wound.

* R v Jordan distinguished

* Turns on its own facts - death was caused by the administration of the wrong drug and the stab wound had already healed. R v Blaue (CA 1975) Facts

* The accused stabbed a Jehovah's Witness.

* The victim refused a blood transplant, which would have saved her life. Issue

* Causation - Refusal of medical treatment Judgment

* Lawton LJ

* The cause of death was not the decision of the victim but the stabbing.

* The assailant must take their victim as they find them - this includes not only any physical predispositions, but also their mental and spiritual ones.

* Behaviour motivated by religious beliefs can not be impugned by the accused



as unreasonable. Thompson LJ (concurred) Shaw LJ (concurred) R v Cheshire (CA 1991)


* The accused shot his victim in the leg and stomach.

* While being treated in hospital, he developed a respiratory problem and the doctors performed a tracheotomy.

* The accused developed chest infections and remained in hospital, during which time he died as a result of a rare but known complication arising out of the tracheotomy. Issue

* Causation - Complications arising out of medical treatment Judgment (Beldam J)

* When the victim of a criminal attack is treated for injuries by medical staff, it is only in the most extraordinary and unusual case that such treatment can be said to be so independent of the acts of the accused that it could be regarded in law as the cause of the victim's death to the exclusion of other acts.

* The judge should direct a jury that the act must be found to have caused the accused's death where it contributed significantly to the death.

* Even where medical treatment is the immediate cause of death, it should not be regarded as excluding the the responsibility of the accused unless the treatment was so independent of his acts and in itself so potent in causing death, that it renders the contribution of the accused insignificant. R v Kennedy (HoL 2007) Facts

* The accused had prepared a syringe full of heroin for the deceased at the deceased's request.

* He was convicted of manslaughter. Issue

* Causation - Intervening act of a third party Judgment

* The criminal law assumes that individuals are autonomous actors.

* The question of causation differs depending on the context and the objectives of the law under consideration - the criteria in Empress Car, a pollution case, do not apply.

* Thus, as the deceased freely and voluntarily injected the heroin, the accused could not be guilty of manslaughter. McCauley&McDermott, Criminal Liability, Intervening Acts


Two approaches to ascertaining a novus actus interveniens:

* An act that is 'free, deliberate and informed' that contributes to the result OR

* A contributing factor that is something other than the natural consequence of the original act

* e.g. an unreasonable effort at self preservation

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