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Why R v Instan is important

In R v Instan, the court stated clearly that an omission is capable of amounting to a killing. This case also provides an example of a situation where a duty of care to the victim is substantiated.

Facts

The victim had been taken ill with gangrene in her leg, leaving her immobile and unable to feed herself. The defendant was the victim’s niece and lived with the victim. Instan did not provide her aunt with any food or sustenance and did not ring for any medical help for the victim as she deteriorated, despite continuing to live in the property and consume the victim’s food. The victim then died.

Conviction at Issue

The defendant was found guilty of manslaughter and appealed this conviction.

Issues facing the Court

  1. Whether the defendant’s omission to provide her aunt with food could constitute a killing.
  2. Whether the defendant was under a duty to prevent the victim’s death.

Outcome

The court found the defendant guilty of manslaughter.

The court held that the defendant owed a duty of care towards the victim because the defendant took the victim’s money to purchase food items. Instan should not have used the money purely for her own food purchases, but also for the benefit of her aunt. Her failure to do so constituted a failure to act which was capable of amounting to causing the aunt’s death.

Lord Coleridge CJ:

It would not be correct to say that every moral obligation involves a legal duty; but every legal duty is founded on a moral obligation.

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