R v Hughes [2013] UKSC 56, [2014] Crim LR 234

Key point

  • This case highlights the distinction between legal causation and factual i.e., ‘but for’ causation


  • D, a driver with a provisional license and no insurance policy, was involved in a vehicle collision with V, who later died
  • D’s driving was faultless and V was entirely responsible for the accident
  • D was charged with causing death by driving whilst unlicensed and uninsured under s3ZB Road Traffic Act 1988

Held (Supreme Court)

  • D was to be acquitted of the charge as he had not legally caused V’s death

Lord Hughes and Lord Toulson

  • The wording of the statute (‘causing…death…by driving’) imported the concept of causation
  • ‘The law has frequently to confront the distinction between “cause” in the sense of a sine qua non without which the consequence would not have occurred, and “cause” in the sense of something which was a legally effective cause of that consequence. The former, which is often conveniently referred to as a “but for” event, is not necessarily enough to be a legally effective cause.’: [25]
  • Given the severity the penalty for homicide, to establish guilt under s3ZB, ‘but for causation’ is not enough, the mere presence of D’s vehicle on the road is not sufficient to establish: [26] – [38]
  • There must be some act or omission in the control of the car, which involves some element of fault, whether amounting to careless/inconsiderate driving or not, and which contributed in some more than minimal way to the death: [36]
  • D’s driving was not, in law, a cause of V’s death as his manner of driving could not be faulted: [36]