R v Wallace [2018]

R v Wallace [2018]

In R v Wallace [2018] EWCA Crim 690, the Court of Appeal addressed the requirement of a voluntary act for the novus actus interveniens rule to apply and break the chain of legal causation. The court interpreted this requirement to necessitate an intervening act committed with free and unfettered volition.

The facts of the case involved the defendant, the ex-partner of the victim, pouring acid onto the victim's face, resulting in severe physical and psychological harm. Months later, the victim, facing medical complications, traveled to Belgium, where he requested and underwent legal euthanasia by a doctor's injection. In the murder case against the defendant, the defence argued that the doctor's injection constituted a novus actus interveniens, breaking the chain of causation.

Initially, the trial judge agreed, withdrew the murder case from the jury, and the prosecution appealed. The Court of Appeal allowed the appeal, stating that causation could be determined by a jury, and a new trial was ordered.

Sharp LJ, in delivering the judgment, clarified the requirement for a novus actus interveniens, stating that the victim's actions and the doctor's conduct were not discrete acts independent of the defendant's conduct, and they were not voluntary in the sense of being free and unfettered.

Regarding the approach to causation, the court emphasised the need for a common-sense analysis of whether the injuries inflicted by the defendant were an operating and significant cause of death. The court highlighted that the shift from a substantial cause to a significant cause clarified that even if the jury considered the doctor as the main cause of death, the defendant's conduct could still be a significant, albeit secondary, cause of death.

It should be pointed out that neither the victim nor the doctors were truly unfettered, being under considerable pressure to act in response to the defendant's actions. Additionally, the shift from a substantial cause to a significant cause highlighted that even if the doctor was the primary cause of death, the defendant's actions could still be considered a significant contributing factor.
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