R v Cheshire – 1991

March 05, 2024
Micheal James

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The 1991 case of R v Cheshire, decided by the Court of Appeal, stands as a landmark in English criminal law concerning the concept of causation and its application in homicide cases. The central question revolved around whether the actions of the accused, Michael Cheshire, who shot the victim during an altercation, broke the chain of causation leading to the victim’s death, considering subsequent medical complications.

Facts of the Case

Cheshire shot the victim, causing severe stomach and thigh injuries. Following surgery, the victim initially recovered but developed respiratory issues requiring a tracheotomy. While initially improving, the victim’s condition worsened days later, ultimately leading to his death. The autopsy revealed narrowing of the windpipe near the tracheotomy site, raising questions about the cause of death. Cheshire, initially convicted of murder, appealed, arguing that medical negligence during the tracheotomy procedure severed the causal connection between his actions and the death.

Legal Issue

The core legal question centered on causation: Did Cheshire’s initial act of shooting constitute the starting point of a chain of events leading to the death, or did the medical intervention break the causal link, absolving him of responsibility?

Causation in Criminal Law

Two crucial elements are required for criminal liability: actus reus (guilty act) and mens rea (guilty mind). Causation adds another layer, connecting the accused’s actions to the resulting harm (death in this case). However, the concept of novus actus interveniens (new intervening act) can interrupt the causal chain, potentially relieving the accused.

Arguments of the Parties

  • Crown Prosecution Service: Argued that Cheshire’s shooting initiated a chain of events directly leading to the victim’s death, even with the intervening medical treatment. They contended that any possible negligence was not unforeseeable and didn’t break the causal link.
  • Cheshire’s Defense: Claimed the tracheotomy procedure constituted a novus actus interveniens, severing the causal connection between the shooting and the death. They argued that the unforeseen complications arising from the medical intervention were independent of the initial injury, absolving Cheshire of responsibility.

Judgment and Rationale

The Court of Appeal upheld Cheshire’s conviction, rejecting the notion of a broken causal chain. Their reasoning:

  • Cheshire’s shooting set in motion a chain of events culminating in the death, even with the medical intervention.
  • While acknowledging the unforeseeable nature of the specific complications, the court stressed that the tracheotomy was necessary due to the initial injury caused by Cheshire.
  • They established a “significant contribution” test, stating that even if medical negligence played a role, if the accused’s act made a substantial contribution to the death, they wouldn’t escape liability.

Impact of the Case

R v Cheshire significantly impacted the understanding of causation in criminal law:

  • Established the “significant contribution” test, allowing for liability even with intervening acts if the initial act played a substantial role in the outcome.
  • Clarified the boundaries of novus actus interveniens, emphasizing a direct and independent nature for an intervening act to break the causal connection.
  • Influenced subsequent cases, emphasizing the need for a holistic assessment of the causal chain beyond immediate and direct physical consequences.


R v Cheshire stands as a cornerstone in establishing the significance of causation in criminal law. By introducing the “significant contribution” test and clarifying the scope of novus actus interveniens, the case provided a robust framework for assessing criminal liability where intervening events and medical complications arise. However, ongoing debate surrounds the nuances of the test and its potential limitations in complex scenarios. This case serves as a crucial reminder of the intricate relationship between act, consequence, and legal responsibility.

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All Answers ltd, 'R v Cheshire – 1991' (Mylawtutor.net, September 2012 ) <https://www.mylawtutor.net/cases/r-v-cheshire-1991> accessed 25 April 2024
My, Law, Tutor. (September 2012 ). R v Cheshire – 1991. Retrieved from https://www.mylawtutor.net/cases/r-v-cheshire-1991
"R v Cheshire – 1991." MyLawTutor.net. 9 2012. All Answers Ltd. 04 2024 <https://www.mylawtutor.net/cases/r-v-cheshire-1991>.
"R v Cheshire – 1991." MyLawTutor. MyLawTutor.net, September 2012. Web. 25 April 2024. <https://www.mylawtutor.net/cases/r-v-cheshire-1991>.
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<ref>{{cite web|last=Tutor |first=MyLaw |url=https://www.mylawtutor.net/cases/r-v-cheshire-1991 |title=R v Cheshire – 1991 |publisher=MyLawTutor.net |date=September 2012 |accessdate=25 April 2024 |location=UK, USA}}</ref>

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