Causation and intervening acts in criminal cases
Causation and intervening acts in criminal cases

The following Corporate Crime guidance note provides comprehensive and up to date legal information covering:

  • Causation and intervening acts in criminal cases
  • Breaking the chain of causation
  • Natural events
  • Acts of third parties
  • Acts of the victim
  • Victim escaping cases
  • Drugs supplied to victim cases

Criminal offences are generally divided into two categories:

  1. conduct crimes, and

  2. result crimes

A conduct crime is a crime where only the forbidden conduct needs to be proved. For example, an accused is guilty of dangerous driving if he drove a motor vehicle dangerously on a road or other public place. There is no requirement to prove harmful consequences such as injury to another.

A result crime is a crime which causes or results in specified consequences. For example, murder requires proof that someone is killed.

For any result crime the prosecution must establish:

  1. a factual link between the conduct of the accused and the result he is alleged to have caused (factual causation), and

  2. a sufficient cause in law between the conduct of the accused and the prohibited consequences (legal causation)

Factual causation is also known as ‘but for’ causation because it must be established that the result would not have occurred but for the actions of the accused.

If factual causation cannot be established the prosecution will fail.

For example, in R v White the accused administered poison to his mother with the intent to kill her. She died not of the poison but of a heart attack. The defendant had not caused her death and was therefore not guilty of murder (but guilty of attempting to murder her).

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