An involuntary act can also be applied to an act committed by a child or someone who is mentally disordered; both lack the rational to be liable for the consequence. If their act impinges on a situation in which the result is a crime, the courts will not look towards their act for fault but trace the cause to the previous actor. A non voluntary act can also be applied to a person who was an 'innocent agent' to the situation; they carried out an act on behalf of someone else yet were unaware of the criminal liability involved.
This is exemplified in the case of Michael. A child was in the care of a foster parent and the mother, wanting the child dead, gave the foster parent some poison to give to the child that she claimed to be medicine. The foster parent, seeing no need for the medicine, placed it on the mantelpiece. Her own 5 year old child then gave it to the child in question. Whether the poison was administered to the child by the foster parent, or by the other child, neither are capable of being criminally liable as they are both 'innocent' actors in the situation.
Even though the mother didn't actually kill the child by giving it poison, the mother is still considered the causal responsibility of the child's death. With the cases I have so far mentioned, there seems to be a repeating pattern; that those who are criminally liable have the mens rea for the consequence. Despite in most of the cases e. g. Michael the criminal was not the person who finally caused the death, they had the intention for murder and brought about an action that did just that.
Since the law is there to protect society, it would seem only right, both morally and legally that those who intend to cause death (or grievous bodily harm from which the victim dies) and initiate a string of events that lead to this death, they should pay for the consequences. This is questionable however in the situations in which there was no mens rea for murder. For example A, who has no intention of killing B, or even to cause grievous bodily harm yet B subsequently dies as a result of A's actions, A may still be liable for the crime.
This can be applied to the type of case in which the victim has a physical weakness. In these situations the 'eggshell skull rule' applies in which a person must 'take the victim as you find her. ' For example, if the action of A is merely to push B, yet B has a fragile skull which he hits, causing him to die; A is still liable for homicide. A must accept the fragility of the victim and is responsible for the damage caused despite the fact that it was the physical weakness that played the dominant role in the death.
The principle of 'take the victim as you find her' can also be applied to cases in which the victim refuses to undergo medical treatment. In Blaue, the victim refused certain treatments for her stab wound as they were against her religion and as such she died. The judge held that 'The fact that the victim refused to stop this end coming about did not break the causal connection between the act and death. ' Despite both these cases relating to the same principle, I consider there to be a difference between the two in that with regards to whether the intervening act was involuntary.
With the case of a physical weakness, there is no doubt that this cannot be helped by victim and is thus involuntary. Hart and Honore consider the case of Blaue to be an involuntary act also and thus will break the causal chain. I however think this is questionable. In contrast I believe that the victims' actions were voluntary; she refused the treatment knowing her death would be the result. She was thus the last person to voluntarily impinge on the situation and thus is the cause of her death. This is not to say I disagree with the judge's decision; since Blaue had the mens rea for murder he should be clearly punished.
It appears that the judge has taken a rather moral approach to this case and used his reasoning to conclude with a decision that is morally correct. It could be regarded that the judge has adopted a policy approach. This is described by Hart and Honere as the way in which 'the courts function is to pass judgements acceptable to society' and that 'the solution… depends on a balancing of considerations which tend to show that it is or is not reasonable or just to treat the act as the cause of the harm.
' In Blaue it would be 'acceptable to society' and 'reasonable' to consider him blameworthy. Criminal liability with regards to 'the eggshell skull rule' is however rather controversial in that it doesn't seem morally right to punish someone for homicide if they only actually committed a minor assault. In effect, someone who had merely pushed the victim innocently could be just as liable for the damage as someone who had the intent to cause serious harm. I think in such cases, there must be careful consideration as to how sever an act is before it can be justifiably punished.
I do not think it is possible to reconcile 'the eggshell rule' with the principle that 'those who do bad things with even worse consequences must expect to pay for them' as if the consequence is death, yet the 'bad thing' is merely pushing the victim, it is questionable as to whether it is just in punishing the actor for the death. Another objection to the 'eggshell skull' rule is that such physical conditions are abnormal and in cases in which abnormal events impinge on the situation, the casual chain is broken.
Abnormal events, illustrated in situations in which a natural, abnormal event occurs after the initial 'bad' act and it is this abnormal event that causes the death. For example if A hits B who falls to the ground yet does not die, but then a tree falls upon B killing him, the causal chain has been broken by the abnormal event and A is not liable for murder. In the words of Hart and Honore 'the connexion between A's action and B's death…. would naturally be described in the language of coincidence.
' It is in this situation that a person commits a 'bad' act with an even worse consequence yet is not expected to pay for it. In conclusion, there are many situations in which it is true to say 'those who do bad things with an even worse consequence must expect to pay for them', Walensky is a prime example. Since laws are there to protect society from harms, it would seem only necessary to punish those whose actions have influenced a situation in which the result is a criminal offence.
Even when others have impinged on the situation, if their act significantly contributed to the final result then they should be punished accordingly. Such as in Welensky, it was effectively the owners initial actions that 'set the scene' for a future crime. However, as I have pointed out at the beginning, there are cases in which the causal chain will be broken and despite the severity of the initial act, the initial actor will not be liable for the consequence; in the example I used earlier, A stabs B yet he does not die until C intervenes to shoot and kill B.
It is such cases in which A's liability is decreased because of the impeding act and I think in such circumstances this is not morally right. The actions of B remove guilt from A, despite the fact that A has the potential for murder. A would only be liable for attempted murder, even though the initial actions of A had the potential to be liable for murder.