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R v Warbuton [2006] EWCA Crim 627

JURY DIRECTIONS – MANSLAUGHTER - CAUSATION

Facts

The facts of the victim’s death were disputed, however an expert witness gave evidence that he had died as a result of knife wounds, blunt force injuries, and drowning. The first appellant (W) claimed that he had slapped to victim under duress from his co-defendants but had done nothing more. The judge directed the jury that if they found his account was or might have been true, he should be convicted of manslaughter. The jury returned to the judge multiple times for guidance on the application of the law of manslaughter to the case, however ultimately convicted him of manslaughter.

The second defendant (H) admitted having hit the victim with a blunt weapon. The jury convicted him of murder following direction by the judge that they should convict if they found that the H’s actions had significantly contributed to the defendant’s death. Both defendants appealed their convictions.

Issue

In relation to W’s conviction, the issue was whether the conviction could be considered safe in light of the confusion and uncertainty displayed by the jury. 

In relation to H’s conviction, the issue was whether the judge had applied the correct test for causation: the appellant argued that the judge should have directed that a verdict of murder could be returned only if the victim would have died from the injuries inflicted by the H alone.

Held

W’s conviction was overturned on the basis that it was incumbent on the judge to provide clearer guidance on the application of the law in circumstances where the jury was clearly experiencing difficulty.

H’s conviction for murder was upheld; the proper direction on the issue of causation was whether the acts of the defendant had significantly contributed to the victim’s death.  


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