R v Malcherek and Steel

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R v Malcherek and Steel [1981] 2 All ER 422

Victim requiring medical treatment – Act breaking chain of causation

Facts

Malcherek

Malcherek stabbed his wife in the abdomen. She was treated for the wound and a few days later she collapsed in hospital. She subsequently had surgery to remove a blood clot during which her heart stopped beating for thirty minutes before it was restarted by the doctors again. This thirty minute period had caused the victim to suffer irretrievable brain damage and as a result, she was placed on a life support machine. A day later, the life support machines were disconnected as there was no chance of her condition improving.

Steel

Steel attacked a girl and caused serious head injuries. She was taken to hospital and put on a life support machine almost immediately, shortly afterwards it was concluded that her brain had stopped working and the machine was disconnected.

Issues

In each case, the medical treatment that was given was considered normal and in line with approved medical practice. Both Malcherek and Steel were charged with murder. In both instances, the trial judges withdrew the issue of causation from the jury as it was clear the initial injuries inflicted were the cause of death. This direction was appealed by Malcherek and Steel.

Held

Appeal dismissed. The fact that the treatment was in line with medical opinion could not prevent the defendants having their guilt absolved. There was no evidence that the original injuries inflicted stopped being the operative cause of death. On this basis, it was held that the Issue was properly and appropriately withdrawn from the jury by the trial judges.

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