Causation in Criminal Law Explained
Causation is the relationship between the defendant and their conduct. It involves what they caused to happen and the end result - this will form the basis of whether the defendant is to blame whilst in court.
If you would like to know more about criminal law causation, then we are here to explain what causation is in UK criminal law, so keep reading for more information on this topic.
What Is Causation?
Causation refers to the cause and effect of the event or action of a crime, and the result causing harm or damage.
Causation is the capacity of one variable to influence another one. The first variable may bring the second one into existence or cause the second variable to change. In the case of criminal law, if the first variable is of the fault of the cause, then he or she may be found guilty.
The act that produces the effect, in which cases, must establish causation meaning that it is not enough to show that a defendant is negligent at the time of the crime. Causation must be established in full in all result crimes and is divided between factual causation and legal causation.
Factual causation is established by applying ‘but for’. This helps to show ‘but for the actions of the defendant, would the result have occurred’. If the answer to this question is a yes - the result would have occurred at the time of the event - then the defendant is not liable for the crime in question. If not, the defendant will be liable and it can be said that their action was the factual cause of the result, event or crime.
An example of causation would be that murder requires proof that a person has been killed. Factual cautions can be known as ‘but for’ causation, as it must be well-established that the result of the crime, (in this case, the murder) would not have happened but for the actions of the accused.
If the factual causation can’t be established then the prosecution will fail. The claimant must prove that the breach caused the loss.
With legal causation, the result must be caused by a culpable act. There is no requirement that the act of the defendant was the only cause, and there is no ‘novus actus interveniens’ meaning ‘new intervening act’. The result must be caused by a culpable act, the defendant must take the victim as they found them.
Breaking The Chain of Causation
A principle to remember for criminal law is whether there is a ‘break in the chain of causation’. Breaking the chain of causation between the defendant's wrongful actions and the harm then the defendant is not liable for the harm.
If an oil spill occurs and an arsonist sees an opportunity to start a fire, the oil company is not to blame and would not be liable for the damage. This is because it is not the oil company’s fault and the arsonist broke the chain of causation between the negligence and the damage.
This notion has been criticised on the basis that it can be difficult to make sense of in mainstream accounts of causation.
A ‘break in the chain of causation’ may amount to whether the act of a third party breaks the chain of causation depending on whether the interference was predicted. A general rule is known that the defendant will be held liable for any harm caused by a third party as a result of the negligence, provided it was a highly likely consequence.
Anywhere where the defendant has control or where the third party is faced with a dilemma that was created by the defendant, the chain of causation is unlikely to be broken and the defendant will normally be liable for the damages that have been caused.
Breaking the chain of causation is that if the defendant's actions will be regarded as the proximate cause of a result if the result occurred as a ‘natural consequence’ of the acts then no intervening facts will be sufficient enough to cause the break.
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