Case of Dudley and Stephens (1884)?

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  • Anonymous
    1 decade ago
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    R v Dudley and Stephens [1884] 14 QBD 273 DC is a leading English criminal case that established a precedent, throughout the common law world, that >necessity is no defence against a charge of murder<

    On the eighteenth day, when they had been seven days without food and five without water, the men discussed what should be done if no help came, and suggested that someone should be sacrificed to save the rest. Brooks disagreed and Richard, the teenager, was not consulted. On the 24th of July, Dudley proposed to Stephens and Brooks that they should draw straws to see who should be put to death, but Brooks refused to join in, and the boy was not consulted.

    On the 25th of July, with no rescue in sight, Dudley said that the boy had better be killed. Stephens agreed to the act, but Brooks still disagreed. Richard Parker was then lying at the bottom of the boat quite helpless, and extremely weakened by famine. Dudley, with the assent of Stephens, went to the boy and put a knife into his throat, killing him then and there. The three men fed upon the body and blood of the boy for four days.

    Four days later the boat was picked up by a passing ship, and the prisoners were rescued, still alive, but weak and confused. The ship reached the port of Falmouth, and the three men were committed for trial at Exeter.

    The defence argued that if the men had not fed upon the body of the boy they would probably have died of famine and that the boy, being in a much weaker condition, was likely to have died before them.

    The judges decided that it is not correct to say that there is any absolute or unqualified necessity to preserve one's life. The law is that where a private person takes the life of another person, his act can only be justified on the grounds of self-defence. This principle had been extended to include the case of a man killing another to prevent him from committing a great crime upon a third person, but the principle had no application to this case. In this case, the prisoners were not protecting themselves against Parker, but from their situation in general. Therefore the killing of Richard Parker was felony and murder, and that Dudley and Stephens were both guilty and were sentenced to death.

    (the Crown commuted the punishment to six months imprisonment. The court had stated that it's job was to declare the law, and it left “mercy” to those in power to distribute it)

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