Practice and Procedure


PUBLISHED February 25, 2003

The trial judge had correctly directed the jury as to causation on a charge of murder and the jury had been entitled to reach its own conclusions on that issue even though the issue was dominated by conflicting expert evidence.Appeal by the defendant ('C') against a conviction for murder with leave of the single judge. The grounds of appeal were that the judge should have withdrawn the case from the jury: (i) at the conclusion of all the evidence or after hearing the evidence of an expert called by the defence; or (ii) at the conclusion of the Crown's case. The deceased was found dead in a flat. Although the immediate cause of her death was diabetic ketoacidosis, she had suffered head injuries and there were traces of blood both in the flat and on a wine bottle bearing C's fingerprints in such a way as to suggest that it was used as a weapon. The Crown's case was that the onset of ketoacidosis was brought about by the head injuries inflicted by C. For a conviction of murder, the jury had to be satisfied that C inflicted the injuries and that when doing so he intended to cause serious bodily harm (there was no allegation that he intended to kill her), that he was not provoked into inflicting the injuries and that the injuries caused the onset of ketoacidosis and led to her death. The issue of causation was the main point on appeal. The jury must have been satisfied that C inflicted the injuries, but the critical issue was whether they were a substantial cause of the deceased's suffering fatal ketoacidosis. The judge rejected C's argument at trial that the Crown's expert witnesses had not provided any or sufficient evidence of causation fit to go before the jury, and observed that there was no evidence from C's expert as to other possible causes of death. It was therefore a choice between the natural progression of ketoacidosis and ketoacidosis precipitated by stress consequent on the deceased's physical injuries. The judge took the view that the jury could properly convict C on the factual and expert evidence before it and refused to allow C to submit that there was no case to answer. C's expert evidence was that, although it could not be certain that the injuries had had no effect on the onset of ketoacidosis, they may have had some slight effect.HELD: (1) The judge had been correct in directing the jury as to the issue of causation, which was a matter for the jury to decide, and in refusing to allow C to submit that there was no case to answer. Even though the issue of causation was dominated by expert evidence, the judge's summing-up could not be criticised. The strength of the factual evidence could only be decided by the jury, and the expert evidence had then to be evaluated by the jury against the factual background. The jury was entitled to form its own conclusions as to the extent of any change in the deceased's body function after the injuries were inflicted. (2) The judge had been under no obligation to withdraw the case from the jury on the basis of C's expert evidence, and that did not render the jury's verdict unsafe. The jury had to consider conflicting expert evidence and it was entitled to prefer the Crown's expert evidence to that of C. The conviction was therefore not unsafe.Appeal dismissed.

[2003] EWCA Crim 28