In general there is no liability for failing to act. The law only makes a person liable for his failure to act where he has a duty to act.
R v Pittwood (1902)
CONTRACTUAL – Defendant was employed as a gatekeeper at a railway crossing. One day he left his post, leaving the gate open which resulted in a fatal accident. Defendant was convicted of manslaughter, based on his failure to carry out his contractual duty to close the gate as the train approached.
R v Stone and Dobinson (1977)
VOLUNTEER – Defendants volunteered to look after anorexic sister despite them both having low levels of intelligence. Sister fell ill and later died because they failed to seek medical assistance. Guilty of manslaughter as they had taken on duty of care by allowing her to live in their home and knowing that she relied on them.
R v Miller (1983)
MINIMISE CONSEQUENCES – Defendant caused a fire in a house he was squatting in. when he awoke and realised what was happening he failed to take any action to minimise the harmful effects of the fire. Guilty of criminal damage.
R v Dytham (1979)
PUBLIC POSITION – Defendant was a police office, he saw a man being attacked and failed to step in to protect the victim. The victim later died and the defendant was convicted of misconduct in a public office. He had a duty to protect the victim.
There is also liability where an Act of Parliament requires a person to act.
E.g. Road Traffic Act 1998 – it is an offence to fail to provide a specimen of breath when required to do so, offence to fail to wear a seatbelt
The voluntary, deliberate act of the defendant
Hill v Baxter (1958)
REFLEX ACTION IS NOT FREE WILLED - Defendant was behind the wheel when his car collided with another; at his trial on a charge of dangerous driving, he claimed he had been overcome by an unknown illness and had been unconscious.
In this case the court gave examples of situations where a driver of a car would not be driving voluntarily, such...