R v Pagett (1983) 76 Cr App R 279
CAUSATION – NOVUS ACTUS INTERVENIENS – SELF DEFENCE
The appellant shot at a police officer who was trying to arrest him, and subsequently attempted to use a pregnant teenage girl standing nearby as a human shield to defend himself against retaliation by the officer. The officer returned fire, killing the girl. At trial the defendant was acquitted of murder but convicted of manslaughter, which he appealed.
The issue before the Court of Appeal was whether the officer’s action in shooting at the defendant constituted a novus actus interveniens such as to break the chain of causation between the defendant’s actions and the death of the victim.
It was held that a neither a reasonable act taken for the purpose of self-preservation, nor an act done in the execution of a legal duty, could not constitute a novus actus interveniens for the purposes of the causal chain. The Court suggested that in a homicide case it is rarely necessary to give the jury more than a simple direction on the issue of causation; a direction that the defendant’s act need not be the sole cause of death is usually sufficient. In this case, the defendant had done two dangerous acts which a sober and reasonable person would realise were likely to cause harm, firstly by firing at the officer and secondly by forcing the victim to shield him from return fire. Both of these acts had in fact contributed significantly to the victim’s death. The conviction of manslaughter was therefore upheld.