R v Smith [1959] 2 QB 35, (1959) 43 Cr. App. R. 121

Key point

  • The actus reus does not have to be the sole cause of the harm inflicted, only an ‘operating and substantial cause’
  • An intervening cause must be ‘overwhelming’ to break the chain of causation


  • D, a soldier, got into a fight at an army barracks and stabbed another soldier, V
  • V was dropped twice en route, and the treatment he received was negligent – medics failed to realise that his lung had been punctured
  • V later died


  • Had there been a break in the chain of causation?

Held (Courts Martial Appeal Court)

  • D was properly convicted for murder – there was no break in the chain of causation

Lord Parker CJ

  • If at the time of death the wound was still an ‘operating cause and a substantial cause’, then the death can properly be said to be the result of the wound, albeit that some other cause of death is also operating.: p. 42 – 43
  • The death cannot be said to originate from the wound only the ‘second cause is so overwhelming as to make the original as to make the original wound merely part of the history’: p.43