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Why R v Gibbons and Proctor is important

R v Gibbons and Proctor establishes that an omission, or a failure to act, is capable of amounting to the actus reus of murder where the defendant has a duty of care towards the victim. An example of these circumstances is the duty of a parent to their child.

Facts

A child’s father and his common law wife neglected and starved his child, who died of starvation.

Conviction at Issue

The defendants were charged with the child’s murder. They argued that simply allowing the child to die was an omission and therefore could not constitute the act of killing, which is required for murder. They argued that this was the case even if they were under a duty to act to protect the victim.

Issue facing the Court

Whether the actus reus of murder could be committed via an omission.

Outcome

Gibbons and Proctor were both found guilty of murder.

The court decided that murder can be committed by a failure to act in circumstances where a duty of care to the victim is imposed on the defendant.

The Court suggested it was self-evident that the father was under a duty to look after his own child. Although the child did not belong to his wife biologically, she was also found to be under such a duty. This is because she had taken money for food from her husband which could have been used to feed the victim.

The Court also said that a calculated and deliberate strategy of starving someone to death must clearly be capable of constituting a killing.

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