Novus actus interveniens/new intervening act

A break in the chain of causation arises where there is a new intervening act or ‘novus actus interveniens’.

Novus actus interveniens is a term that is used in the context of causation.  It means 'a new intervening act'.  The word 'new' is used in the sense that it was not the accused's act - so the original perpetrator may not be responsible.

A chain of causation is sometimes referred to when the defendant triggers a series of events involving others who may also contribute to the harm or injury of the victim.  The question then arises whether the original perpetrator should be responsible for the eventual outcome.

A break in the chain of causation means that when this occurs the courts interpret this to mean that the accused’s conduct was not the cause of the harm or injury.  This is unusual but when it does occur it will result in the accused being acquitted. A break in the chain of causation arises where there is a new intervening act or ‘novus actus interveniens’

In these circumstances it may not be appropriate to find the defendant responsible for the eventual outcome as others have played an important part in bringing this about.  The law may still want to blame the accused for the way in which he or she did act but the law will also want to hold responsible the others, for the part  they played, if they were the main contributor to the outcome.

There are two cases which probably best illustrate the principles of causation.  These are the cases of  R v Jordan (1956) and R v Smith (1959).

In R v Jordan (1956) the defendant stabbed the victim who was admitted to hospital where he died 8 days later. In hospital the victim had been given anti-biotics to which he was allergic and he had also been given large amounts of intraveneous liquid. At the time of his death the stab wounds were starting to heal.

In the Court of Appeal it was stated that the direct and immediate cause of death was pneumonia. Two doctors expressed the opinion that death had not been caused by the stab wound, which was mainly healed at the time of the death, but by the medical treatment the victim received. The court held that the defendant was not liable for the death.

In R v Smith the defendant had been involved in a fight with another soldier at their army barracks.  During the fight the defendant stabbed the other soldier twice with his bayonet, medics were called and took the injured man to the medical station. On the way there the man was dropped two times and on arrival at the medical centre he did not receive the appropriate treatment and the medical officer did not diagnose the seriousness of his injuries and that his lung had been punctured in the attack. The soldier died and the defendant was convicted of murder.  He appealed claiming that if the victim had received the appropriate medical treatment he would have survived. The conviction was upheld as the stab wound was the "operating and substantial cause"  of death.

Causation # 1 - 'But For' by The Law Bank Youtube

Causation # 2 - Legal Causation by The Law Bank Youtube

Causation # 3 - Intervening Acts by The Law Bank  Youtube

causation in law ::



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