R v Cato [1976] 1 WLR 110

Causation and whether consent of victim to injections is relevant; requirements of unlawful and malicious administration of “noxious thing” under s. 23 of the Offences against the Person Act 1861


Mr Cato and the victim prepared their own syringes and then injected each other with heroin. The victim died. Mr Cato was convicted of manslaughter and administering a noxious thing contrary to s. 23 of the Offences Against the Person Act 1861. He appealed against his conviction.


The jury was asked to decide whether the injection caused, contributed to or accelerated the victim’s death. The judge did not provide the direction that cause or contribution should be substantial, and advised the jury that the victim’s consent to the heroin injection was irrelevant to the consideration of whether Mr Cato was reckless or grossly negligent (i.e. whether he committed manslaughter). Mr Cato argued that the trial judge had thus misdirected the jury. He also claimed that heroin was not a “noxious” thing and that “malicious” administration under s. 23 OAPA 1861 had not occurred – i.e. the act of injection was not unlawful.


The injection of heroin had to be the cause of death in order to find that manslaughter had taken place. Even though no express directions were given about the necessity of “substantial” cause of death, it must have been clear to the jury that more than a de minimis contribution was required. Secondly, the victim’s consent might be relevant to the finding of recklessness or gross negligence but consent in itself is not a defence to manslaughter. The jury was thus not misdirected. Thirdly, as Mr Cato had unlawfully taken heroin into his possession in order to inject the victim with it, the act of injection was itself unlawful in relation to the charge of manslaughter. Finally, heroin is a potentially harmful substance and thus a “noxious” thing for the purposes of s. 23 OAPA 1861; since the act of administration was deliberate and direct, there is no need to find “maliciousness”.