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Regina v. Dudley & Stephens (1884) - Is necessity a defense for murder?

RITUPORNA GUPTA ,
  15 October 2020       Share Bookmark

Court :

Brief :
The Court held that "the necessity of hunger does not justify larceny, let alone murder. Stephens and Dudley chose the weakest and youngest to kill and it was not more necessary to kill him than any of the other grown men.Stephens and Dudley were tempted to kill Parker but temptation itself is not an excuse for murdering him. Their unfortunate circumstances also do not lend leniency to the legal definition of murder. Hence, it is a murder and both Stephens and Dudley to be sentenced to death."
Citation :
Appellants :Regina Respondents:Dudley and Stephens Citation :(1884) 14 QBD 273

Bench:

Lord Chief Justice Lord Coleridge

Issue:

  • Whether killing of an innocent person due to hunger considered as a necessity in the defence of murder?
  • Does killing of a person to save one's own life amounts to self-defence?
 

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Facts:

• The defendants Dudley and Stephens along with Brooks and Parker (victim) were cast away at sea after facing a storm without weeks of food and water except for some turnips and a turtle.

• Due to insufficiency of food, it was suggested by the defendant Dudley that a lot should be drawn where they can sacrifice one out of the four men by feeding on his flesh in order to survive.

• Brooks had refused to follow the suggested method and Parker wasn't consulted.

• After some days the defendants Dudley and Stephens killed the boy and all three men fed on the boy's flesh.

• Four days later a vessel rescued them and Dudley and Stephens were charged with murder.

Appellant's contentions:

• It was contended that the defendants had committed a murder of a weak, innocent person and resorted to cannibalism for their own survival.

Respondent's contentions:

• The respondent contended that the victim was killed as a self-defensefor survival due to insufficiency of food.

Judgement:

The Court held that "the necessity of hunger does not justify larceny, let alone murder. Stephens and Dudley chose the weakest and youngest to kill and it was not more necessary to kill him than any of the other grown men.Stephens and Dudley were tempted to kill Parker but temptation itself is not an excuse for murdering him. Their unfortunate circumstances also do not lend leniency to the legal definition of murder. Hence, it is a murder and both Stephens and Dudley to be sentenced to death."

-Para 3 (Regina v Dudley and Stephens)

 
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