There was a fight at a military base and Smith stabbed three people with a bayonet. He stabbed one of the men in the back, and when he was being carried to the hospital he was dropped twice. On top of this, they failed to give the victim a saline solution, could not perform a blood transfusion, and gave him artificial respiration when his lung was collapsed. The victim died. The doctor said that the victim would have had a 75% chance of survival if proper treatment had been given. Smith was charged and convicted of murder at a court martial.
- Was Smith's action a sufficient cause to create criminal liability?
Appeal dismissed, conviction upheld.
The defense claimed that in order to convict for murder it would have to be proven that it was Smith's actions that caused the death. It is apparent that the victim would not have been in hospital but for his stabbing, but it was argued that it is unfair to convict him because the court must have be satisfied that the death was a natural and sole consequence of the stabbing.
Parker, writing for the court, held that if, at the time of death, the original wound is still a substantial cause then the original wound can be said to be the cause of death even though another cause is also operating. Only if the second cause is "overwhelming" can the initial cause cease to be a cause of death.
If an initial cause remains a significant cause when the prohibited outcome occurs, then it is said to be the cause of the outcome even if there are other causes acting towards the outcome, unless the subsequent causes are "overwhelmingly" to blame.
This test was employed in Canada until R v Smithers in 1978.