Medical treatment and the chain of causation
In most cases in criminal law where medical treatment is given to the victim of an attack, that medical treatment will not break the chain of causation if the victim dies. In other words, the original attacker remains liable for the death of the victim, even if the treatment was poor and contributed to, or even caused, the death.
Case example: R v Smith (1959)
The defendant stabbed the victim in a fight in army barracks. The victim was carried to the army medical station but was dropped twice on the way and at the station was given inappropriate treatment which aggravated the wound and contributed to his death. The court held that the defendant was guilty of murder as the original injury was still a ‘substantial and operating cause’.
In R v Cheshire (1991) the court said that even if treatment was negligent, that would not normally absolve the original attacker of liability for the death. The attacker would only be absolved if the negligent medical treatment was independent of the attacker’s acts and potent in causing death (see case example overleaf).
Case example: R v Jordan (1956)
The victim had been stabbed but was recovering well with the wounds mainly healed when he was given an overdose of a drug to which it was known that he was allergic. He died as a result of the drug. The defendant who had stabbed the victim was held not to be guilty of his murder. The hospital treatment had broken the chain of causation.