R v Pagett (1983) 76 Cr App R 279 is a UK criminal law case that deals with the issue of causation in criminal law.
In this case, Pagett who was under siege from armed police had taken his pregnant girlfriend hostage and was using her as a shield to avoid arrest by the police. During the standoff, he fired his shotgun at the police who returned fire in defence. Pagett used his girlfriend as a human shield. As a result, she was killed in the crossfire.
Pagett was charged with manslaughter on the basis that his actions had caused the death of his girlfriend. However, Pagett argued that it was the actions of the police that had caused her death and not his own.
The court held that neither a reasonable act taken for the purpose of self-preservation, nor an act done in the execution of a legal duty, could constitute a novus actus interveniens for the purposes of the causal chain. The court reasoned that although the police had fired the fatal shot, Pagett's actions had contributed significantly to the chain of events that led to the death of his girlfriend. As a result, the court held that Pagett's actions were the "operating and substantial cause" of his girlfriend's death, and he was found guilty of manslaughter.
This case established the principle that in criminal law, a defendant can be held responsible for a result if their actions were a significant contribution to the chain of events that led to the result, even if other factors were also at play.
You can learn more about this topic and other case law with our Criminal Law notes.