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R v Williams & Davis [1992] Crim LR 198 Court of Appeal


The defendants picked up a hitchhiker on the way to Glastonbury festival. The hitchhiker jumped out of the car when it was travelling at 30 mph, hit his head and died. The prosecution alleged that the defendants were in the course of robbing him when he jumped out and thus their actions amounted to constructive manslaughter. The trial judge directed the jury:

‘... what he was frightened of was robbery, that this 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.’


The jury convicted and the defendant appealed


Held:

Conviction was quashed as there was an almost total lack of evidence as to the nature of the threat. The prosecution invited the jury to infer the gravity of the threat from the action of the deceased.

On the issue of novus actus interveniens Stuart Smith LJ stated:

"The 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, that is to say that it was within the ambit of reasonableness and not so daft as to make it his own voluntary act which amounted to a novus actus interveniens and consequently broke the chain of causation. It should of course be borne in mind that a victim may in the agony of the moment do the wrong thing."
 
Back to lecture outline on causation in criminal liability