R v Evans manslaughter by omission – drug overdose

Sunday 5 April 2009 at 2:42 pm | In News | Post Comment
On the 2 April the Court of Appeal convened a rare 5 judge panel to decide whether a victim suffering from a drug overdose was owed a duty to act by the person who had contributed to her condition. They found she was owed a duty to act.

R v Evans [2009] CA
[Gross negligence manslaughter – actus reus – omission – state of affairs life threatening – duty to act]
D failed to summon help for overdosing victim to whom she had given drugs. D was V’s older half-sister, who was 16 years old. D and V and their mother were heroin addicts. D gave heroin to V who self-injected and overdosed. D and her mother put V to bed, hoping that she would recover, while they watched Emmerdale on TV.  She died during the night.

Held: For the purposes of gross negligence manslaughter, when a person had created or contributed to the creation of a state of affairs that he knew, or ought reasonably to have known, had become life threatening, a consequent duty on him to act by taking reasonable steps to save the other’s life normally arose.

D had been under a plain and obvious duty to take reasonable steps to assist or provide assistance for the victim.

The prosecution case was based solely on her negligent omission to summon medical help when the deceased was suffering from a heroin overdose.

The relationship between D and the deceased did not of itself create a duty to act.

D was under a duty to take reasonable steps for the safety of the victim once she had appreciated that the heroin she had procured for her was having a potentially fatal impact on her health.

R v Adomako [1994] applied; R v Miller [1983] considered; Airedale NHS Trust v Bland [1993] considered; R v Wacker [2003] considered; R v Kennedy (No 2) [2008] considered; Mitchell v Glasgow City Council [2009] HL considered; R v Willoughby [2005] explained.

Comment: This case was heard by 5 judges because it raised an important point of law. The proposition that a supplier of drugs owes a duty of care to the customer is not supported by the authorities.   D’s involvement in the supply to her sister of the fatal dose of heroin could not found a conviction for manslaughter on the basis of her unlawful and criminal act. (R v Kennedy (No 2) an authority expressly stated to have no application to gross negligence manslaughter).

This appeal was not about the supply of the heroin.

The facts did not create a duty between step-sisters as it did with the mother.

D was under a duty to take reasonable steps for the safety of the deceased once she appreciated that the heroin she procured for her was having a potentially fatal impact on her health.

The court agreed that there is an inconsistency between the authorities.

D was sentenced to 4 years her mother 2 years.
The deceased Carly Townsend was 16 years old.

BBC report here
Whole case here

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