Suicide on the railway is considered a ‘crime of violence’ – yet not, it seems, on the road. Will the Supreme Court finally resolve this bizarre legal anomaly?

Arti Shah of our London office sums up what yesterday’s Supreme Court hearing was all about… 

arti_shahEight years since the date of the initial incident, following a long and arduous process, we ended up at the highest court in the country, the Supreme Court.

The case concerned Mr Jones, an innocent victim of a road traffic accident who suffered catastrophic injuries when his lorry was hit by another. It had swerved to avoid hitting Mr Hughes, a man who had run out into its path on a dual carriageway to commit suicide.

 

The debate revolved around the definition of a ‘crime of violence’, and whether grievous bodily harm contrary to section 20 of the Offences Against the Person Act 1861 had been committed. Had there been intent to cause harm, or recklessness as to whether harm of any degree might be caused?

The legal history:

  • The Criminal Injuries Compensation Authority (CICA) had decided the circumstances leading to the injuries did not amount to a crime of violence
  • The First Tier Tribunal (FTT) had decided there was no injury as a result of a crime of violence as there had not been a ‘hostile act’
  • We requested Judicial Review, on the basis that whilst we could not get into the mind of Mr Hughes to consider whether he had the necessary intent to cause harm, it could be inferred that a reasonable person would consider that the possibility of causing an accident or consequential harm to others was foreseeable by his actions. So there had been an error of law by the FTT
  • This was referred to the Upper Tribunal (UT) who decided that the FTT had been entitled to conclude that there had not been a crime of violence.

Not satisfied with this, we sought permission to appeal to the Court of Appeal, which was duly granted. At a hearing on 4th March 2011, the case was ordered to be sent back to a newly selected FTT on the basis that the original FTT panel had erred in its judgment, and an inference could be drawn regarding intent. Reference was made to an almost identical case where the FTT had decided in favour of the applicant, with no obvious reasoning to distinguish it from our case.

Following this the Criminal Injuries Compensation Authority appealed the decision, which was allowed, and led to the hearing yesterday.

There must be a fair and consistent approach by the CICA in dealing with these types of cases; the nature of the act, rather than its consequences, needs to be looked at when coming to the decision. In this case we maintain that, by the very nature of this method of suicide, an act of violence has occurred, bringing the case within the remit of the criminal injuries compensation scheme.

We now await the Supreme Court decision and hope that this longstanding anomaly of the interaction between a ‘Section 20’ offence and a crime of violence can be reconciled.

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