R v Instan [1893] 1 QB 450

Offences against the person – Duty of care

Facts

Instan was cared for and maintained by her seventy-three-year-old aunt who was the deceased in this case. The deceased was healthy until shortly before her death before she contracted gangrene in her leg which prevented her from moving and caring for herself. During this time, Instan lived in the house, took in food from traders (of which she gave the deceased none), omitted to procure medical assistance and even conducted conversations with neighbours about the deceased without disclosing her dire condition. The jury found Instan guilty of manslaughter in the first instance. Instan appealed.

Issue

An important legal issue in this case was whether a duty of care was imposed upon Instan under such circumstances and whether her negligence accelerated the death of the deceased. The solicitor on behalf of Instan argued that such a duty could only be enforced by virtue of statute, contract or by common law and none of which were applicable in this case.

Held

‘There can be no question in this case that it was the clear duty of the prisoner’ (at page 454).

Whilst she had the gangrene infection, the victim could only be aided by Instan and it was only Instan that had knowledge of her condition in the final days of her life. On this basis, it was held that Instan owed the victim a duty of care and that she did not discharge this duty with the actions mentioned in the facts. The failure to do so was deemed to at least accelerate the death of the deceased. Appeal dismissed and the conviction was affirmed.