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Facts of R v. Pittwood (1902)- Case Study

Question :
  • What do you mean by gross negligence manslaughter?
  • What do you mean by Omission and duty to care?
  • What are the facts of “R v Pittwood (1902)"?
  • What judgement was delivered in “R v Pittwood (1902)"?
Answer :

Case scenario

R v Pittwood (1902) is the case of English criminal Law related to Omission. This case is concerned with the circumstances in which the duty to care arises. Omission in particular for the duty which a person have with respect to saving other from any physical harm. This case related to an omission done by Pittwood which resulted into manslaughter.

Criminal Law

The English criminal law is mainly concerned with the offences, crime, its prevention and its consequences. Criminal conduct by any person is not considered as wrong against just a single person but it is considered as a crime against whole of the community.

Breach of contract

It is the violation of any terms or condition which was specifically mentioned under the contract made between the parties. The breach can be related to any condition of the contract. The contract creates a binding effect on the parties who are in contractual relationship and also it is enforceable by law. Thus, breach of contract as is enforceable by law held liable the wrongdoer. Breach can be of a written or an oral contract. Non compliance with the terms and conditions of the contract makes the wrongdoer liable to pay damages and compensation to the innocent party.

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Omission

An omission is failure to perform a duty assigned to a person. Omission of duty may five rise to legal consequences depending upon the situation. The law provides restrictive approach with regard to imposing liability in case of omission. Omission gives rise to civil liability, but when such an omission of act results into killing some other person the person after investigating facts may be convicted under criminal law.

Duty of care

It is the term which is used under the law of tort. Duty to care is an obligation which is legal in nature. Such duty is imposed on a person who is required to keep reasonable care while performing his duties which can cause harm to other being.

Gross negligence manslaughter

It is a crime which is committed by a person when he was negligent of his official duty to care for others and commit an unlawful act. The unlawful act so committed resulted into the death of some other person. There are few elements which helps in determining the presence of gross negligence. The first is the existence of breach of duty by a person who is accused of having a duty to care towards the person killed. The second element is determination of the cause of death of the person. The third element is the determination of the grossness of the act which caused death. The last element is the obviousness of the risk which caused death of the person.

Gross Negligence
(Illustration 1: Gross Negligence, 2021)

Actus Reus

It is the term which is commonly defined as any criminal act done using voluntary body movements. The act done causes harm to another person or damages the property of other. Any act such as: murder, physical assault, destroying and causing destruction of the property of others comes under the Actus reus.

Facts

Lawyer Interrupted
(Illustration 2: lawyer Interrupted, 2020)

Pittwood was employed as a gatekeeper at the railway company. His duty involved closing of the gates whenever any train is passing. He was responsible for looking at the time table of the arrival of train and accordingly he was suppose to close the gate to avoid any uncertainty or misshapen of event. On one fine day during noon he went to grab his lunch keeping the gates open. The train was about to arrive and at the same time a cart passed through the open gates. The train crashed both the horse and the driver of the cart. This resulted into killing of the driver of the cart.

A claim was brought by prosecution against the gate keeper Pittwood and he was charged with manslaughter with gross negligence.

Legal issues

  • Whether the omission of Pittwood amounts to Actus Reus of gross negligence?
  • Whether Pittwood is liable for causing the death of the driver of the cart?
  • Whether criminal omission of Pittwood based upon contractual duties?

Arguments

It was argued by the Pittwood during the trial that, he was only guilty for his inattention. He shall not be held liable for the criminal negligence. He also argued on the matter that the road from which the train was passing was not any public road instead was an accommodation road. The jury at the court convicted him for his act. He appealed in the court stating that he is not liable for the act as he had no duty to take care towards the victim i.e. the cart driver as he was under contract with the railway company. He stated that the contract do not make him own any duty to care towards the victim.

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Judgement

Manslaughter
(Illustration 3: Manslaughter, 2015)

The judge in this case dismissed the appeal. The court held that Pittwood is liable for not closing the gate as it was his duty . He was under contractual obligation which was aroused as a result of existence of contract between the railway company and Pittwood. Under the contract he was expected to ensure that the gate is shut. He failed to carry out the duties which were assigned to him under the contract which amounted to criminal offence. The contract imposed him with duty to keep the public away from harm but he failed to perform his duties.

The court also held that the contractual omission done was sufficient grounds for a person for criminal conviction.

Court also made clear in the judgement of this case that the road which was in question was not an accommodation road. It was held by the court that the railway company took charge of protecting the public while crossing the railway line on said road, it automatically turns into a public Road.

Also Read: Volkswagen Carbon Emission Scandal Case

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