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Cases - actus reus - omissions

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Ahmad, R v (1986)

Airedale NHS Trust v Bland [1993] HL

Chattaway, R v (1922)

Downes, R v (1875)

Dytham, R v [1979] CA

Fagan v Metropolitan Police Commissioner [1969] QBD

Firth, R v (1990) CA

Frenchay NHS Trust v S [1993] CA

Gibbins & Proctor, R v (1918) CCA

Instan, R v [1893] CCR

Kaitamaki v The Queen [1984] PC (New Zealand)

Khan, R v [1998] CA

Lowe, R v [1973] CA

Miller, R v [1983] HL

Pitchley, R v (1973) CA

Pittwood, R v (1902) Wright J

Re B (adult: refusal of medical treatment) [2002] FD
(Dame Elizabeth Butler-Sloss)

Re B (A Minor) (Wardship: Medical Treatment) [1981]CA

Re J [1991]CA

Re T (Adult: Refusal of Treatment) [1993] FD

Re W (A Minor) (Medical Treatment: Court's Jurisdiction) [1993] CA

Rice v Connolly [1966] DC

Santana-Bermudez, DPP v (2003) DC

Senior, R v [1899]

Shepherd, R v (1862)

Smith, R v (1826)

Smith, R v  [1979](Crown Court),

Speck, R v [1977] CA

Stone and Dobinson, R v (1977) CA

Yuthiwattana, R v (1984)CA

 

Ahmad, R v (1986)

[Omissions - "acts" required by statute cannot be omissions]
D a landlord failed to supply a key to a tenant.

 

Held: In order to be convicted of "doing acts calculated to interfere with the peace and comport of residential occupier with intent to cause him to give up occupation of the premises" contrary to s1 of the Protection From Eviction Act 1977, the landlord would have to commit an "act", which was clearly required by the statute, he could not be guilty by failing to act.

 

Not guilty

Airedale NHS Trust v Bland [1993] HL

 

Red Triangle indicaing "must know material"

^[Omissions – the actus reus of murder – where duty situation exists  - medical treatment - best interests of patient to allow to die - consent of court to be obtained first]
Tony Bland seriously injured in the Hillsborough disaster, was being kept alive only by extensive medical care (not a life-support machine). He had survived for three years in persistent vegetative state (PVS). He continued to breathe normally, but was kept alive only by being fed through tubes. He had no chance of recovery; his doctors (with the support of his family) sought a declaration from the court that it would be lawful for them to discontinue treatment so that he might die peacefully.

 

 

Held: Treatment could properly be withdrawn in such circumstances, because the best interests of the patient did not involve him being kept alive at all costs.

Lord Goff drew a fundamental distinction between acts and omissions in this context:

". . . the law draws a crucial distinction between cases in which a doctor decides not to provide, or to continue to provide, for his patient treatment or care which could or might prolong his life, and those in which he decides, for example by administering a lethal drug, actively to bring his patient's life to an end . . . the former may be lawful, either because the doctor is giving effect to his patient's wishes . . . or even in certain circumstances in which . . . the patient is incapacitated from stating whether or not he gives his consent. But it is not lawful for a doctor to administer a drug to his patient to bring about his death, even though that course is prompted by a humanitarian desire to end his suffering, however great that suffering may be: see Cox (unreported) 18 September 1992 . . . So to act is to cross the Rubicon which runs between on the one hand the care of the living patient and on the other hand euthanasia."

In this case feeding him was treatment and that treatment would not cure him and therefore was not in his best interests.

It was lawful for D's doctors to stop feeding him artificially.

See also Frenchay Healthcare NHS Trust v S [1994] CA. Similar issues can arise in respect of the very elderly or in respect of babies born with very severe mental or physical handicaps, especially where major (and possibly repeated) surgery would be needed to keep them alive see Re J [1991].

 

It was lawful for D's doctors to stop feeding him artificially.  The court had no option but to make a decision one way or the other.

Also here

Chattaway, R v (1922)

[Omissions - duty imposed - children over 16]
Imposed a duty towards a daughter aged 25.

no summary available

Downes, R v (1875)

[Omissions - special relations - death of child - manslaughter]
D was a member of the sect
known as the "Peculiar People" who believed that all resort to medical as opposed to spiritual aid in illness was sinful.

 

Held: The legislation then in force strengthen the law protecting children.

Lord Coleridge CJ:

'By wilfully neglecting, I understand an intentional and deliberate abstaining from providing the medical aid, knowing it to be obtainable.'

Bramwell B:

'... the statute imposes an absolute duty upon parents, whatever their conscientious scruples may be. The prisoner, therefore, wilfully--not maliciously, but intentionally, disobeyed the law, and death ensued in consequence. It is, therefore, manslaughter.'

Guilty of manslaughter

Dytham, R v [1979] CA

 

 

[Omissions - actus reus of breach of official duty - police]
D, whilst on duty and in uniform
some 30 yards away from the entrance to a club, from which he saw a man ejected. Shortly afterwards there was a fight involving cries and screams and the man was beaten and kicked to death in the gutter outside the club. He then left without calling for assistance or summoning an ambulance.

 

Held:
Lord Widgery:  

"The allegation made was not of mere non-feasance but of deliberate failure and wilful neglect. This involves an element of culpability which is not restricted to corruption or dishonesty but which must be of such a degree that the misconduct impugned is calculated to injure the public interest so as to call for condemnation and punishment."

Guilty of the common-law offence of wilful misconduct in public office.

Fagan v Metropolitan Police Commissioner [1969] QBD

 

Red Triangle indicaing "must know material"

^[Omission - cannot constitute a battery - course of conduct]
D was directed by PC Morris to park his car. D accidentally drove his car on the policeman’s foot. The PC let him know what he had done and asked him to move off his foot. D then refused to move off the PC’s foot.

 

Held: An assault is any act which intentionally or possibly recklessly causes another person to apprehend immediate and unlawful personal violence. 

James: 

‘A mere omission to act cannot amount to an assault.’ 
 

‘For an assault to be committed both the elements of actus reus and mens rea must be present at the same time.’ 
 

‘It is not necessary that mens rea should be present at the inception of the actus reus; it can be superimposed upon an existing act.’ 
 

‘On the other hand, the subsequent inception of mens rea cannot convert an act which has been complete without mens rea into an assault.’

Where an assault involved a battery, it matters not whether the battery is inflicted directly by the body of the offender or through the medium of some weapon or instrument controlled by the action of the offender. To constitute this offence, some intentional act must have been performed; a mere omission to act cannot amount to an assault.

If the act, as distinct from the results thereof, is a continuing act, there is a continuing threat to inflict unlawful force. If the assault involves a battery and that battery continues, there is a continuing act of assault.

 

Guilty

Firth, R v (1990) CA

^[Omissions - property offences included - deception -  an act of omission - obtaining exemption from or abatement of a liability]
D evaded a liability by deception (Theft Act 1978 s 2).  He avoided paying for tests by dishonestly failing to tell the hospital that the patients were private. D a consultant gynaecologist and head of an NHS department also ran a private practice from home. D could have agreed with the NHS that he would pay for the tests and recoup the money from his private patients.

 

Held: If D had to give relevant information to the hospital and if he dishonestly and deliberately did not, with the result that his patients or himself were not charged for the tests, then the offence is complete.

 

It did not matter whether it was an act of commission or an omission.

Guilty

Frenchay NHS Trust v S [1993] CA

 

Red Triangle indicaing "must know material"

^[Omissions – the actus reus of murder – where duty situation exists  - medical treatment - "best interests of patient" to allow to die - consent of court to be obtained first]
D, hospital. S, 24 year old in PVS from drug overdose with the result that he suffered acute and extreme brain damage. Feeding tube became detached consultant recommended to do nothing.

 

Held: There was no reason to question the conclusion of the consultant in this situation of acute emergency. It was in the patient's best interest to allow him to die by not taking surgical action to replace the tube (an omission).

 

S allowed to die.

Gibbins & Proctor, R v (1918) CCA

 

Red Triangle indicaing "must know material"


 

[Omissions – duty situations– the actus reus of murder]
D and his common law wife failed to feed the man's 7 year-old child, Nelly, and she died from starvation. The woman hated Nelly, and was clearly the moving force.

 

Held: Where there is the duty to act, failure to do so can lead to liability even for murder if the necessary mens rea is present.

The woman was held to be liable because, while the child was not hers, she was living with the man and had accepted his money for food.

The courts regarded the parent's duty towards a young child as so self-evident as not to require analysis or authority.

 

Guilty of murder

Instan, R v [1893] CCR

 

Red Triangle indicaing "must know material"

^[Omission - manslaughter - distinction between unlawful commission and omission – existence of duty – advertence needed]
D lived with her aunt, who was suddenly taken ill with gangrene in her leg and became unable either to feed herself or to call for help. D did not give her any food, nor did she call for medical help, even though she remained in the house and continued to eat her aunt's food. The aunt's dead body was found in the house decomposing for about a week.

 

Held: A duty was imposed upon D to supply the deceased with sufficient food to maintain life, and that, the death of the aunt having been accelerated by the neglect of such duty.

Lord Coleridge, CJ:

"It would not be correct to say that every moral obligation involves a legal duty; but every legal duty is founded on a moral obligation. A legal common law duty is nothing else than the enforcing by law of that which is a moral obligation without legal enforcement."

‘In this case, as in most cases, the legal duty can be nothing else than the taking upon oneself the performance of a moral obligation’

Guilty of manslaughter.

Kaitamaki v The Queen [1984] PC (New Zealand)


 

 

^[Omissions - rape - continuing act principle]
D broke into a young woman's flat and twice raped her. D claimed that the woman consented or he honestly believed that she was consenting. On the second occasion after he had penetrated her he became aware that she was not consenting but he did not desist from intercourse (an omission to withdraw).

 

Held: Sexual intercourse was complete upon penetration in the sense that it had come into existence, it was a continuing act only ending with withdrawal; that since rape is defined as "having" intercourse without consent a man was guilty of rape within the section if he continued intercourse after he realised that the woman was no longer consenting.

 

Guilty

Khan, R v [1998] CA

^[Omissions - duty to avert danger of D's own making]
DD drug dealers supplied heroin to a 15-year-old girl. It became apparent the girl needed medical attention but the DD left her alone, she died. The next day they dumped her body on waste ground.

At trial DD were convicted of manslaughter by omission to summon medical assistance.

 

Held: Extending the duty of a drug dealer to summon medical assistance for a person whom he supplied heroin and who subsequently died would be too wide an extension.

They owed no duty to help the girl.

 

Appeal allowed and a retrial ordered.

Lowe, R v [1973] CA

 

Red Triangle indicaing "must know material"

^[Omissions - death of child not automatically manslaughter]
D a man of low intelligence, was alleged to have neglected his baby daughter by failing to summon medical assistance when she became ill. The child died some 10 days later of dehydration and gross emaciation. The woman with whom D had been living had four other children and was of subnormal intelligence. D stated that he had told her to take the child to the doctor, but she had not done so because she was afraid that the child would be taken into care.

The defendant was charged with manslaughter and wilful neglect contrary to s.1(1) of the Children and Young Persons Act, 1933.

 

Held: Phillimore LJ was of the opinion that there needs to be a higher degree of culpability or blameworthiness for crimes committed through omission, than for crimes where there has been a positive act.

(1) D ought to have realised the possible consequences of his failure to call a doctor; the sole question was whether his failure to do so was (a) deliberate, and (b) the cause of the child’s unnecessary suffering or injury to health;
(2) A clear distinction was to be drawn in relation to an act of commission and an act of omission; mere neglect, even though deliberate, which caused injury to a child’s health and resulted in its death, did not necessarily constitute manslaughter where accused had failed to foresee the consequences of his neglect.

 

Guilty of wilful neglect, not guilty of manslaughter the mental element of the offence had not been established.

Miller, R v [1983] HL

 

Red Triangle indicaing "must know material"

^[Omissions - situation created by D]
D a vagrant was sleeping in a building, and fell asleep on his mattress. When he woke up, he saw that his cigarette had caused the mattress to smoulder. Instead of calling for help, just moved into another room. The fire flared up and spread.

 

Held: He was convicted of arson, not for starting the fire but for failing to do anything about it.

Lord Diplock:

"...I see no rational ground for excluding from conduct capable of giving rise to criminal liability, conduct which consists of failing to take measures that lie within one's power to counteract a danger that one has oneself created, if at the time of such conduct one's state of mind is such as constitutes a necessary ingredient of the offence. I venture to think that the habit of lawyers to talk of "actus reus," suggestive as it is of action rather than inaction, is responsible for any erroneous notion that failure to act cannot give rise to criminal liability in English law."

Guilty of arson (criminal damage by fire)

Pitchley, R v (1973) CA

[Omission - actus reus - handling stolen property]
D
innocently received from his son some money to pay into the D's bank account for safe keeping, and the father, having paid it in on Friday, discovered on Saturday that his son had stolen it.

 

Held: The fact that until Wednesday D did nothing whilst he wondered what to do amounted to handling by " dishonestly undertaking the retention of the property by or for the benefit of another " so, in effect, making him guilty by omitting to report his son to the police.

 

Guilty

Pittwood, R v (1902) Wright J

 

Red Triangle indicaing "must know material"

^[Omissions – actus reus - duty of care, under a contract] 
D a level crossing keeper who negligently left open the crossing gate. This led to the death of a carter whose cart was struck by a train.

 

Held: D had a duty to shut the gate (owed to his employers rather than to the public at large), but it was enough that his negligent failure to act could lead to conviction.

 

Guilty gross negligence manslaughter

Re B (adult: refusal of medical treatment) [2002] FD (Dame Elizabeth Butler-Sloss)

[Omission - the right to die - competent adults]
D the hospital caring for Ms B.  She wanted her artificial ventilation switched off.  As a competent adult she could decline medical treatment. Ms B was tetraplegic, and paralysed, but she was able to move her head and speak. She knew would almost certainly result in her death.


D argued "ambivalence" evidenced by the fact that Ms B had told the doctors that she was glad that they had not followed her earlier advance directive (living will).

D also argued benevolent paternalism ('doctor knows best') Dame Elizabeth Butler-Sloss criticised this attitude in trenchant terms.

 

Held: Dame Elizabeth Butler-Sloss criticised the attitude of the doctors. Since Re T (adult: refusal of medical treatment) a competent adult may refuse medical treatment, even if the likely result will be their own death. Refusal may be for reasons which are rational, irrational, unknown or non-existent. This right has been confirmed in Airedale NHS Trust v Bland [1993] HL and Re MB (an adult: medical treatment) [1997].
Moreover, there is a presumption of capacity, and it is for those asserting the right to override the patient’s wishes to establish incapacity, rather than for the patient to establish her own capacity: Re C (adult: refusal of medical treatment).


Ms B was allowed to die and did so peacefully some weeks later.

Re B (A Minor) (Wardship: Medical Treatment) [1981] CA

[Omissions - newly born Mongol child requiring operation to save life - parents refusing consent - whether operation in child's best interests]
D, local authority. Surgeon agreed with parents to allow to die a child with Down's and complications.

 

Held: The best interests of the child where that she should have an operation, not whether the parents' wishes should be respected; child could expect normal span of life of a Mongol.

 

Child allowed to live.

Re C. (Adult: Refusal of treatment) [1994] [Family Division]

 

^[Omissions - refusal of amputation - patient suffering severe mental disorder - not understanding effects of refusal of treatment]
D a secure hospital where C, a chronic paranoid schizophrenic was detained.  C had an ulcerated gangrenous foot requiring amputation of the leg below the knee, otherwise his chances of survival were small. C refused his consent to amputation. Other treatment, improved his condition. However, the hospital refused to give an undertaking that the leg would not be amputated at some time in the future.

 

Held: Although C was incapable of fully understanding the reasons for the amputation, an individual was entitled to turn to the courts to determine if he was capable of refusing or consenting to medical treatment. That extended to a future amputation by any hospital, without his written consent.

 

Injunction granted, to prevent amputation without his C's consent.

Re J [1991] CA

[Omissions - medical treatment - profoundly handicapped baby - "patient's best interests"]

J, born prematurely, suffered brain damage and was ventilated more than once. At best he was likely to have a considerably shortened life expectancy, would be a serious spastic quadriplegic, without sight, speech or hearing. His only likely normal reaction was that of pain. He might suffer respiratory collapse requiring further resuscitation.
(For reasons unconnected with his clinical condition he had been made a ward of court)

 

Held: Although there was a strong presumption in favour of the preservation of life, no principle of public policy regarding the sanctity of life displaced the paramountcy of J's best interests; and that accordingly even though J was not terminally ill the court might in appropriate circumstances withhold consent to life-saving treatment.

Re T (Adult: Refusal of Treatment) [1993] FD

[Omissions - duty to provide medical treatment -refusal of blood transfusion - "patient's best interests"]
T aged 21 was admitted to hospital following a road traffic accident, she was pregnant.  When only her mother (a Jehovah's Witness) was with her, she stated spontaneously to a nurse - and later the midwife and a doctor - that she did not want a blood transfusion. Later a decision was taken to deliver the child by Caesarean section. She signed a form which was neither read nor explained to her, signifying her refusal of consent to blood transfusions. Her child was stillborn and her condition deteriorated. A blood transfusion was needed but not given because of her expressed wishes.

 

Her father, supported by her boyfriend, applied to the court to allow a transfusion in the absence of her consent. The judge, decided that because of her condition and the effect of the medication she had not been fully rational when she signed the form. He allowed the father's application.

A transfusion was given forthwith.

 

Subsequently the judge found that T had been lulled into a sense of false security by the hospital staff and been misinformed about alternative procedures. He concluded that her refusal did not extend to the situation as it had developed.

 

Held:  Although an adult patient was entitled to refuse consent to treatment irrespective of the wisdom of his decision, for such a refusal to be effective his doctors had to be satisfied that at the time of his refusal his capacity to decide had not been diminished by illness or medication or by false assumptions or misinformation, that his will had not been overborne by another's influence and that his decision had been directed to the situation in which it had become relevant; that where a patient's refusal was not effective the doctors were free to treat him in accordance with their clinical judgment of his best interests; that in all the circumstances, including T's mental and physical state when she signed the form, the pressure exerted on her by her mother and the misleading response to her inquiry as to alternative treatment, her refusal was not effective and the doctors were justified in treating her on the principle of necessity; and that, accordingly, the judge's order had been properly made.

Re W (A Minor) (Medical Treatment: Court's Jurisdiction) [1993] CA

 

Red Triangle indicaing "must know material"

[Omissions - duty to provide medical treatment -16-year-old girl - treatment for anorexia nervosa - "patient's bets interest" required her treatment]
W was in the care of the local authority (LA) following the death of her parents.  She developed symptoms of anorexia nervosa. Contrary to her wishes and the opinion of the consultant attending her, the LA sought the court's permission to transfer her to a unit specialising in eating disorders and treatment. Being 16, W claimed she had the same right as an adult to refuse medical treatment and claimed the court could not override her decision.

Thorpe J found that although W had sufficient understanding to make an informed decision she should, nevertheless  (because of the medical evidence) receive medical treatment without her consent.

 

Held: A minor who had attained the age of 16 had an absolute right to give consent (or not) to medical treatment, as effectively as if he were an adult.  A minor of any age who had sufficient maturity might consent to - or refuse - treatment but he could not overrule consent given by the court.

The court would take particular account of the minor's wishes, the importance of which increased with his age and maturity, but would override them where his best interests so required.

 

Having regard to the nature of W's illness and to the serious deterioration in her condition, her best interests required the court to direct her immediate transfer to and treatment at the new unit without her consent.

Rice v Connolly [1966] DC

 

Red Triangle indicaing "must know material"

[Omissions - refusal to answer PC's questions - not wilful obstruction of PC]
D was seen in the early hours of the morning behaving suspiciously in an area where burglaries had occurred. He refused to say where he was going or where he had come from. He refused to give his full name and address. He refused to accompany the police to a police box for identification purposes, saying, "If you want me, you will have to arrest me". He was arrested and charged with wilfully obstructing the police contrary to s. 51 (3) of the Police Act 1964.

Held: Although every citizen had a moral or social duty to assist the police, there was no legal duty.  D was entitled to decline to answer the questions and to accompany the police officer to the police box.

 

Not guilty

Santana-Bermudez, DPP v (2003) DC

 

Red Triangle indicating important material

 

 

Whole case here

 

 

^[Omissions - assault - actus reus - inactivity by D - an omission can amount to the actus reus of an assault - creating dangerous situation]
D injured a woman police officer by allowing her to search him, knowing he had hypodermic needles in his pockets which stabbed her. D denied having any needles or sharps when asked.

 

D was convicted by the Magistrates, but acquitted at Crown Court. On appeal by way of case stated from the Crown Court, prosecutor's appeal was allowed.

Held:
Where someone created a danger and thereby exposed another to a reasonably foreseeable risk of injury, there was an evidential basis for the actus reus of an assault occasioning actual bodily harm.


D had “created a danger by an act … that act was a continuing act”.  The risk of injury was foreseeable.

 

Not guilty but would be now

Also here

Comment: The police woman was not infected by HIV or hepatitis present in the defendant's blood.

Senior, R v [1899] CCR

[Omissions - wilfully]
D, charged with the manslaughter of his son, belonged to a sect called "Peculiar People" who objected on religious grounds to calling in the medical aid which would have prolonged (and probably saved) the child's life.

Wills J, whose direction was upheld on appeal, had told the jury

'... there could be no doubt that the prisoner had wilfully and deliberately abstained from calling in medical assistance, though he and those about the child were aware for some considerable period before its death that it was in a state of great danger, and that therefore the question was narrowed down to whether his failure to procure medical aid could be "called neglecting the child so as to cause serious injury to its health."'

Lord Russell CJ stated that

'"Wilfully" means that the act is done deliberately and intentionally, not by accident or inadvertence, but so that the mind of the person who does the act goes with it'.

Held: The intentional failure of a person, who had the necessary means to procure medical aid for a child in his care or charge, who was, to the knowledge of such person, in a dangerous state of health, and for whom medical aid and medicine were essential things that reasonably careful persons would have provided for children in their care, was evidence of ‘wilful neglect’ within Prevention of Cruelty to Children Act 1894 s 1 (repealed), and if the jury found that the death of the child was caused or accelerated by want of medical aid, such person was guilty of manslaughter. It made no difference that such person believed that to call in medical aid would be wrong, as being contrary to the teaching of the Bible, or as showing want of faith.

Shepherd, R v (1862) CCR

[Omissions - duty of care - does not extend to 18 year old]
D the mother of a girl aged 18 who died during childbirth. During labour she was taken into the house of her stepfather during his absence. The mother omitted to obtain the assistance of a midwife, and her daughter died. There was no evidence that the mother had the means to pay the midwife.

 

Held: She was not legally bound to procure the aid of a midwife, and she could not be convicted of manslaughter for not doing so, there being no duty toward a daughter aged 18.

Erle, CJ:

" Here the girl was beyond the age of childhood, and was entirely emancipated."

Not guilty of manslaughter

Smith, R v (1826)

[Omissions - no duty towards another adult]
D had an helpless idiot brother, who was bed-ridden in his house, and kept him in a dark room, without sufficient warmth or clothing.

 

Held: This will not be an assault or an imprisonment. There is no legal obligation on one brother to maintain another, so as to make the omission indictable.

 

Not guilty by omission

Smith, R v  [1979] (Crown Court)

[Omissions - duty of husband to his wife]
D the husband of a woman who gave birth to a stillborn child at home, delivered by her husband. D wanted to get medical attention for her but she would not allow this. Three days later when she became unconscious, D called the doctor, who did not arrive until after she died. The medical evidence was such that if a doctor had been summoned earlier the woman might not have died.

Held: At the trial the judge instructed the jury that D owed a duty to his wife. The jury could not agree upon the charge of manslaughter and was discharged from giving a verdict.

Speck, R v [1977] CA

 

 

[Omissions - inactivity can be an act]
D was sitting on a chair when an eight-year-old girl put her hand on his penis outside his trousers for about five minutes. The pressure of the child's hand caused him to have an erection. He remained inactive ''throughout and did nothing to encourage the child, although he did not remove her hand.

 

Held: Where a man deliberately allowed a child to let her hand remain on his penis for a substantial period he would be guilty of the offence charged if the jury were satisfied that the particular act or acts amounted to gross indecency.
LCJ:

"...we think that such inactivity can nevertheless amount to an invitation to the child to undertake the act."

"Suppose a man has done this on a number of occasions with a child, and suppose on a later occasion the child comes into the room. The man is sitting there and the child, hoping to get a reward (which was given in the instant case) proceeds to go and fondle the man's private parts. Is it going to be an answer for him to lie back and say " No, I am not moving; I am not active; I am not committing an offence " ? If the circumstances justified the view that his conduct amounted to an invitation to the child that she was to continue the act, then it is clear that is sufficient activity to justify a conviction."

 

The matter is dealt with in general terms in Professor Glanville Williams' book Criminal Law, The General Part (2nd ed. 1961) at p. 3 where he says:

" In some instances an omission will create criminal responsibility without any positive act. The prohibition of omissions presents greater legislative problems than the prohibition of positive acts .... The legal duty to act, therefore, is a circumscribed and it must be positively laid down by the law. It is possible for the law to provide that whoever does so-and-so shall be punishable . . . ."

The matter is dealt with in general terms in Professor Glanville Williams' book Criminal Law, The General Part (2nd ed. 1961) at p. 3 where he says: " In some instances an omission will create criminal responsibility without any positive act. The prohibition of omissions presents greater legislative problems than the prohibition of positive acts .... The legal duty to act, therefore, is a circumscribed and it must be positively laid down by the law. It is possible for the law to provide that whoever does so-and-so shall be punishable . . . ."

Guilty

Stone and Dobinson, R v (1977) CA

 

Red Triangle indicaing "must know material"

[Manslaughter by omission - distinction between unlawful commission and omission – existence of duty – advertence needed]
S and D allowed Stone's ill and unstable sister , Fanny, to live in their house. Fanny was suffering from anorexia and her condition deteriorated, until she became bed-ridden. She needed medical help, but none was summoned and she eventually died in squalor, covered in bed sores and filth.

 

Held: Because they had taken Fanny into their home, they had assumed a duty of care for her and had been grossly negligent in the performance of that duty. The fact that Fanny was Stone's sister was merely incidental to this.

Geoffrey Lane LJ:

“The duty which the defendant has undertaken is a duty of caring for the health and welfare of the infirm person. What the prosecution have to provide is a breach of that duty in such circumstances that the jury feel convinced that the defendant’s conduct can properly be described as reckless, that is to say a reckless disregard of danger to the health and welfare of the infirm person. Mere inadvertence is not enough.

The defendant must be proved to have been indifferent to an obvious risk of injury to health, or actually to have foreseen the risk but to have determined nevertheless to run it.’

Both guilty of manslaughter by gross negligence.

Yuthiwattana, R v (1984) CA

[Omission - when an omission is an act -inconsistent approach by courts]
D a landlady refused to replace a missing door key for the occupier of a bed-sitting room in her house. He had to depend for the rest of his time there on someone being in the premises to let him in. The continuing refusal of a replacement key was an act “calculated to interfere with the peace and comfort” of [the tenant] with the intent to cause him to give up occupation of his room.

 

Held: There was conduct in in addition to the refusal to provide a front door key and it seems not to have been argued that the failure to provide a key was a mere omission.

 

Guilty cf Ahmad (1986)

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