Crime Newsletter: Recent Case Summaries

November 4, 2021

Emily Hassell

Muhammed [2021] EWCA Crim 802 (causing death by dangerous driving / causation / seatbelts)

The Defendant had been racing another vehicle at over 100mph, he was uninsured, and his wife and three children were passengers. His tyre blew out and he lost control of the vehicle across a motorway and collided with a tree. His three-year-old son died at the scene and his wife and other children suffered serious injuries. An expert established that his wife had been wearing a seatbelt, but the child seat that the three-year-old son had travelled in was not adequately secured with a restraint. Another expert concluded that there was latent damage to the tread structure of the tyre. Both experts agreed that the Defendant was travelling over 100mph.

The Court stated:

  1. a jury could find that the manner of the Defendant’s driving was dangerous and that it was at least a contributory cause of death and serious harm;
  2. a deficiency in the restraint mechanism of an occupant was capable of being considered as a factor in the offence if the Prosecution had made the jury sure that the deficiency would have been obvious to a competent driver and created an obvious danger of injury to any person.

The Defendant was convicted and sentenced to four and a half years’ imprisonment.

The Defendant appealed. It was submitted that:

  1. the death of his son and serious injury to other family members were directly attributable to his loss of control of the vehicle which followed from the unexpected tyre blow out, not from competitive driving;
  2. the unexpected tyre blow out represented a break in the chain of causation;
  3. in the absence of any evidence that he had been aware of the tyre defect the case should have been withdrawn from the jury;
  4. lack of proper restraint by seatbelts should not have been capable of independently grounding a finding of dangerous driving.

The appeal was dismissed. There was evidence of competitive driving and the jury were entitled to conclude that it amounted to dangerous driving. The Court of Appeal held:

  1. the dangerous driving was not required to be the sole or major cause of the death or injuries;
  2. the Prosecution was not required to establish that the precise mechanism of the collision was foreseeable;
  3. seat belt deficiencies could establish, in the appropriate context, dangerous driving.

The Defendant’s interpretation of the test on foreseeability – namely that the Prosecution needed to prove that he could have anticipated the exact event that led to the impact – was too narrow. The Court cited the case of Girdler [2009] EWCA Crim 2666 and held that if the general form and risk of further harm was reasonably foreseeable, it may not matter that the specific manner in which it occurred was entirely unpredictable.

The submission advanced on behalf of the defendant in respect of causation was identical to that advanced in the recent case of R v A [2020] EWCA Crim 407. In that case, the Court similarly rejected the Respondent’s interpretation of the decision in Girdler as too narrow. Whilst the decision in R v A has been subject to academic criticism, the judgment in Muhammed clearly demonstrates that it is the authority to be applied. Therefore, there will be no break in the chain of causation merely because the specific manner in which death was caused was unpredictable. If the jury are sure that the general form and risk of harm was reasonably foreseeable, causation will be made out.

Ihenacho v Croydon London Borough Council [2021] EWCA Crim 798 (fitness to plead / confiscation)

The Defendant was convicted of dishonestly making a false statement in relation to benefit. She was sentenced in 2012 and confiscation proceedings took place in 2014. The Defendant suffered from persistent delusional disorder that an imposter had stolen her identity and committed the criminal acts in her name. It was common ground that the Defendant was suffering from the disorder in 2014. The Defendant claimed that she was unfit at the time of the confiscation hearing in 2014.

The appeal was dismissed. It had not been shown on the balance of probabilities that the Defendant was not fit at the time of the confiscation hearing. There was evidence supporting the Defendant’s claim that she was unfit, but the test in R v Pritchard (1836) 7 C&P 303 had not been satisfied, and the psychiatric evidence was divided on the issue.

The factors identified that pointed to the Defendant’s fitness were:

  1. between February 2014 and March 2015 there was no contact with mental health services;
  2. the Defendant was represented by solicitors who in 2014 did not suggest that she was not fit;
  3. the Defendant had been able to complete a statement for confiscation proceedings and appear in the Court of Appeal to make submissions in respect of an earlier appeal;
  4. there was nothing to suggest that, in 2014, the Defendant would not have been able identify what assets she had, where she obtained them, and her source of income. Although the Defendant protested her innocence, it was not apparent why that would prevent her giving instructions in respect of the confiscation proceedings.

The Court held that there is clear authority that it is possible for a Defendant to be unfit in confiscation proceedings. The case is a useful authority on the determination of confiscation proceedings where the defendant may, or may not be, unfit.

Smith (Kyle Damien) [2021] EWCA Crim 716 (breach of notification requirements – use of social media ‘handles’)

In 2017, the Defendant was convicted of child sex offences and was sentenced to four and a half years’ imprisonment. He was made subject to an indefinite SHPO which limited his communication with any child under the age of 16. He was required to comply with notification requirements indefinitely. The notification requirements provided that he must disclose certain information, including his name. The Defendant was released in 2019. The police uncovered a Facebook profile in the name of the Defendant with the username @realselfieking, a Snapchat account with the username @realselfieking1, and a Twitter account with the username @MrWelshBoy. The accounts had not been brought to the attention of the police. The Judge ruled that the obligation under s.83(5) Sexual Offences Act 2003 to notify the police of other names ‘in use’, included a requirement to notify the police of social media usernames, handles and aliases.

On appeal, it was submitted that there was no requirement in the legislation to notify the police of social media usernames, handles and aliases, and that the Judge’s interpretation effectively created an additional mandatory requirement. The appeal was dismissed. It was held that the word ‘name’ was to be given its everyday and plain meaning. The handles used were an individual designation by which he was known, referred to or addressed, and was therefore a ‘name’ that he was undoubtedly required to notify to the police.