Criminal liability and legal causation

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James died following Rosie’s attack giving rise to potential liability for murder. The actus reus of murder is unlawful killing of a reasonable person within the King’s peace.[1] This necessitates a causal nexus between Rosie’s attack and James’ death. Factual causation requires that death would not have occurred ‘but for’ the defendant’s actions.[2] This is satisfied as Rosie’s attack set in motion a chain of events that resulted in James’ death.

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However, factual causation only acts as a preliminary filter to eliminate unconnected events; the actus reus of murder requires that legal causation is also established. Legal causation isolates the most culpable factual cause as the basis for criminal liability. The fact that Rosie’s attack was not the most immediate cause of death is immaterial; following Pagett, the defendant’s act need not be the sole or even the main cause of death provided it is a cause.[3] Rosie may argue that the accidental disconnection of James’ life-support system is a ‘new and overwhelming’ cause of death that renders her contribution insignificant,[4] particularly as there is evidence that James would have recovered from her attack. The prosecution may challenge this by claiming that cessation of life-support was characterised as an omission in Bland[5] and only a positive act can break the chain of causation. However, Bland can be distinguished as the accidental removal of life-support by an unauthorised and unqualified person is not analogous to a medically-sanctioned cessation of artificial support thus Rosie will establish that the cleaner’s negligence was a positive act thus could potentially break the chain of causation. Irrespective of this, legal causation will be established as it is a policy-driven area that attributes criminal responsibility in line with blameworthiness. The defendant’s wrongdoing rendered the victim vulnerable to deficiencies in treatment thus errors should not absolve the defendant of liability[6] unless they render the defendant’s contribution wholly insignificant[7] and, without Rosie’s attack James would not have been on life-support and vulnerable to its termination. This is a particularly pressing argument given that even deliberate cessation of life-support will not break the chain of causation.[8] As such, Rosie’s attack remains the legal cause of death and the actus reus of murder is established notwithstanding the accidental disconnection of life-support. The mens rea of murder is malice aforethought, defined as intention to kill or cause grievous bodily harm.[9] Rosie’s attack on James was not done with the express purpose of causing death[10] thus direct intention to kill is not established. If James’ death was a virtually certain consequence of Rosie’s attack and she realised this was the case then oblique intention will be established.[11] However,

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