Supreme Court on crime of violence in suicides

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Jones v FTT and Criminal Injuries Compensation Authority 2013 UKSC 19

Here the Supreme Court considers, for the first time, what is truly meant by a ‘crime of violence’ in the context of a suicide.

The case of Jones originates from a sequence of tragic events.  On 18 January 2005, Mr Jones and Mr Nash were driving two vehicles along the dual lane carriageway, north of Dartford.  Mr Nash’s vehicle was in front.  A car was parked on the hard shoulder of the motorway.  As Mr Nash’s vehicle proceeded, a pedestrian, Mr Hughes ran from behind the parked car, in front of Mr Nash’s lorry, with his hands raised in order to commit suicide.  Mr Nash was unable to brake and Mr Hughes was killed instantly. 

Due to braking sharply, the rear of Mr Nash’s vehicle swung into that of Mr Jones.  This caused Mr Jones to be flung from his vehicle, sustaining serious injury that now require him to have full time care.  CICA refused Mr Jones claim on the grounds that he had not been a victim of a crime of violence.  This decision was supported by the First Tier Tribunal (FTT).  It was found that Mr Hughes’ intention had been to commit suicide, not to cause harm to any other road user.  Mr Hughes sought judicial review of this decision and his case was heard by a three strong panel of the Upper Tribunal. The Upper Tribunal dismissed Mr Jones’ claim, but it was remitted to the Court of Appeal.  It held that a reasonable person would consider a persons suicide to be an act of violence.  The Court of Appeal was critical of the Tribunals assumption that suicide was automatically inconsistent with an intention to harm others.  In the absence of other evidence, it was held that the Court could make an inference as to Mr Hughes appreciation of the risk of harm to others. 

The case was then remitted to the Supreme Court, who supported the CICA’s appeal.  When considering a crime, focus was placed on the nature of the crime itself, not on the subsequent consequences.  The Court of Appeal was held to have been too heavily swayed by the view that anyone running into a busy motorway of traffic would at least be aware of the possibility of harm to others.  Perhaps disappointingly the Court failed to address the issue of whether a crime is intrinsicly violent by its nature.  What was emphasized was the expertise of the Upper Tribunals and that this is where appellant courts should be seeking future guidance from.

What can be taken from this judgement is the ruling that a s 20 Offences against the Person Act 1861 offence will always result in a violent crime.  This was despite fierce dispute from the CICA.  The present case failed as Mr Jones was unable to demonstrate that Mr Hughes was reckless as to the impact on others.  Recklessness is a vital element of any section 20 offence.  Had this element been present, Mr Jones would have succeeded.

Of note is the new 2012 scheme which has been launched since the hearing of this case.  This provides additional guidance as to what constitues a crime of violence and specifically excludes suicides, bar from those deliberately intended to harm others.