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R v Khan & Khan [1998] Crim LR 830 Court of Appeal

The two appellants sold heroin to a 15 year old girl at their flat. This was the first time she had used heroin and she used twice the amount generally used by an experienced user. She took the heroin in the presence of the appellants. She fell into a coma and the appellants left the flat leaving the girl alone when it was clear that she required medical assistance. They returned to the flat the following day and found her dead. Medical evidence was such that if the girl had received medical assistance she would not have died. They were convicted of gross negligence manslaughter and appealed contending that a drug dealer does not owe a duty of care to summon medical assistance to his client.

Held:

The convictions were quashed due to a misdirection but the court did not rule out the possibility of a duty of care being owed by drug dealers.


"He (the trial judge) did not make any ruling as to whether the facts were capable of giving rise to the relevant duty and he did not direct the jury in relation to that issue. To extend the duty to summon medical assistance to a drug dealer who supplies heroin to a person who subsequently dies on the facts of this case would undoubtedly enlarge the class of person to whom, on previous authority, such a duty may be owed. It may be correct to hold that such a duty does arise. However before that situation can occur, the Judge must first make a ruling as to whether the facts as proved are capable of giving rise to such a duty and, if he answers that question in the affirmative, then to give the jury an appropriate direction which would enable them to answer the question whether on the facts as found by them there was such a duty in the case being tried by them.

Unfortunately, the question as to the existence or otherwise of a duty to take care towards the deceased was not, in this case, at any time considered by the Judge, and the jury was given no direction in relation to it.

The behaviour of these two Defendants towards Lucy Burchell was about as callous and repugnant as it is possible to imagine but, for the reasons which we have given, we are obliged to quash the convictions for manslaughter.
 
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