Currently the UK operates no general duty to aid someone in peril, only where there is a certain relationship established. Using case law and legal principles an attempt to justify such a duty in today’s society shall be considered. In considering its merits and drawbacks, with reasoned opinion, this essay shall conclude whether the UK criminal law should impose such a duty. In UK law it is an offence to fail to take reasonable steps to assist another person in peril in certain situations. Such duties as those arising from contract (R.v Pitwood ), special relationships (Gibbins and Proctor ), creation of a dangerous situation, or one arising from the assumption of being a carer (R v. Stone and Dobinson ). In considering how such a duty could be imposed on society, one would have to consider if such an offence would be a conduct, circumstance or consequence crime (perhaps a combination). Would the offence of failing to take reasonable steps arise from simply not acting; would certain circumstances be a benchmark as to what was a reasonable step to take? Or would the death or severe harm that came to the person in peril define whether the bystander had failed to take reasonable steps. Imposing criminal liability for offences of commission by omission is quite a modern approach to criminal justice. Such a law would hope to yield a socially conscientious society, whereby one did think of their neighbour and did not simply ‘look out for themselves’. Individual liberties within a democratic society are altered by such a duty;
however this could be said of all laws. Surely it is a necessity of a democratic society to have laws that act as guidelines for how the greater people want their country run. There is an argument that Parliament does have a duty to impose moral guidelines upon society. The very reason we have a legislative body is to guide society in the way we behave, so why stop at guiding society in what we cannot do but also...
Bibliography: Allen, M. & Cooper, S. (2010) ‘Actus Reus’, in Allen, M. & Cooper, S. (10th Ed) (2010) Elliott and Wood’s Cases and Materials on Criminal Law, Ashford Colour Press, Gosport.
R v. Pitwood  19 TLR 37
R v. Gibbins and Proctor  13 Cr App R 134
R v. Stone and Dobinson  QB 354
R. v Instan  1 QB 450
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