R v Blaue (1975) 61 Cr App R 271 is a leading case in English criminal law that deals with the issue of causation in cases of manslaughter, specifically in relation to the defence of provocation.
In this case, the defendant, Blaue, stabbed a woman multiple times after she had refused his advances. The victim, who was a Jehovah's Witness, refused a blood transfusion on religious grounds, which would have saved her life. She died as a result of her injuries.
At trial, the defence argued that Blaue was provoked by the victim's refusal to have sexual intercourse with him and that this was a partial defence to murder. The defence argued that the victim's refusal of a blood transfusion was an intervening act that broke the chain of causation between the defendant's actions and the victim's death.
The court held that the victim's refusal of a blood transfusion did not break the chain of causation and that Blaue was guilty of manslaughter. The court stated that a defendant must take the victim as they find them and that the victim's refusal of a blood transfusion was a foreseeable consequence of the defendant's actions. Furthermore, the court held that the defendant's subjective reaction to the victim's provocation was irrelevant, as the objective test for provocation required consideration of whether a reasonable person would have been provoked.
The case is significant because it established that the thin skull rule applies to cases of manslaughter and that the defendant cannot rely on the victim's refusal of medical treatment as a defence. The case also clarified the objective test for the defence of provocation and emphasised that the defendant's subjective reaction to provocation is irrelevant.
The thin skull rule, also known as the eggshell skull rule, is a legal doctrine that holds a defendant responsible for the full extent of the harm caused to a victim, even if the victim has a pre-existing medical condition or vulnerability that makes them more susceptible to injury, as in Smith v Leech Brain & Co (1962). In other words, a defendant must take a victim as they find them, and cannot use the victim's pre-existing condition as a defence to limit their liability.
The rule is called the thin skull rule because it was used in cases where a victim's skull or brain was particularly vulnerable to injury due to a pre-existing condition such as a thin skull, which might increase the risk of harm from a head injury. However, the rule is not limited to cases involving head injuries or medical conditions affecting the skull. It can apply to any pre-existing condition that makes a victim more susceptible to injury or harm.
The thin skull rule is often applied in cases of negligence, personal injury, and criminal law, particularly in cases of assault or battery where a victim's pre-existing condition may make them more vulnerable to harm. The rule serves to protect vulnerable individuals and ensure that defendants are held accountable for the full extent of the harm they cause, regardless of the victim's pre-existing condition or vulnerability.
You can learn more about this topic and other case law with our Criminal Law and Tort Law notes.