Rex V. Ezeocha (1946)
LawGlobal Hub Judgment Report – West African Court of Appeal
Criminal Law—Manslaughter by negligence—Unlicensed person administeringinjections—Degree of negligence necessary to constitute manslaughter.
If a person takes upon himself the responsibility of attending to a patient when he is not qualified for the purpose and uses a dangerous drug, he is bound to bring skill to its use: if his education or employment make the use of the dangerous drug amount to want of skill and the patient dies, the person administering the drug is guilty of such criminal negligence as amounts to manslaughter.
Akerele v. The King (1) and R. v. Igwurugwu (2) distinguished.
R. v. Crick (4) followed.
Cases referred to:
- Akerele v. The King, 8 W.A.C.A. 5.
- R. v. Igwurugwu, W.A.C.A. October, 1945 (unreported).
- Andrews v. D.P.P., 26 Cr. App. R. 50. (1937), A .C. 576. (1937), 2 A.E.R. 552. 106 L.J.K.B. 370. 101 J.P. 386. 53 T.L.R. 663. 81 Sol. Jo. 497. 156 L. .T _ 464. 30 Cox C.C. 576, H.L.
- R. v. Crick, 1 F. 6, F. 520_ 175 E.R. 835.
Appeal from the Supreme Court of Nigeria.
Appellant absent and unrepresented.
Hay for Crown.
The following joint judgment was delivered:
The applicant was charged in the Supreme Court of the Aba Judicial Division with manslaughter : the particulars, which allege that on the 15th of March, 1943, he unlawfully killed one Oyima Woka (f) show that the prosecution is a stale one but it is seen from the evidence that he disappeared from 1943 until the 25th of September last, when he was arrested.
The case for the prosecution is that the accused gave the woman three injections at intervals of seven days for which he charged 3s. a time. Shortly after the last injection she became very ill and died eight days later: the accused asked her sister not to report the matter. After his arrest in September he made a statement which he now denies having made and which reads as follows:—
” I did give injection to one Owerri-Aba woman in the year 1943, as I was passing by the road. The woman was very sick. She asked me to inject her with my injection. She said, that she had tried many other injections. I did not agree at first, but she compelled me. I warned her very seriously, still yet she said that I would not be responsible of whatever might be the result. I told her that she would pay 2s. when she got better, or to leave paying anything if she did not recover. I did it by favour.
” After two months I heard through a constable that the woman whom I gave injection had (died) become very ill and that she had been taken to hospital. That is how it happened.”
The defence was that he ” did not administer any injection to the woman “, and that action was taken against him by the family out of revenge as a result of another matter unconnected with the death of the deceased.
There was the Analyst’s report of the finding of bismuth in the organs sent for analysis: the medical evidence explaining the significance of this and showing
that death was caused by toxaemia due to a bismuth injection was accepted by the Court. The case for the prosecution was found to be substantially true, and the defence was not believed by the learned trial Judge. The accused is a native doctor.
Two recent cases were referred to in the judgment, viz., Akerele v. The King (1), and Rex. v. Igwurugwu (2), but neither is directly in point for the former deals with the negligence of a medical practitioner and the latter does not assist as it was apparently decided on the failure of the prosecution to prove that the accused was not licensed and that the use of the substance whether N.A.B. or other drug was the cause of death, and did not distinguish between a qualified and unqualified man.
Counsel for the Crown asked the Court to hold that though the following passage in the judgment is a misdirection:-
” I am of the opinion that the accused acted in a criminally negligent manner in administering bismuth to a person suffering from stomatitis and I find in accordance with the medical evidence that the injection of bismuth which itself may cause stomatitis aggravated the disease and the consequent toxaemia from which she died.
” Apart however from the question of negligence it appears to me that in any case the accused must be guilty of manslaughter inasmuch as the giving of the injection was an illegal act.”
there was evidence which established the degree of criminal negligence necessary to constitute manslaughter (Andrews v. Dir. of P.P. (3) ). Whilst we are unable to agree that the passage was ()biter didum, we think that the last four lines read alone would amount to a misdirection, but read in conjunction with the rest of the judgment we take it as meaning that there was criminal negligence and there was also an action which was dangerous to life and which was forbidden by law.
The summing up of Pollock, C.B., in a similar case was to the effect that it is no crime for anyone to administer medicine, but that it is a crime to administer it so rashly and carelessly as to produce death and in this respect there is no difference between the most regular practitioner and the greatest quack (Reg. v. Crick (4) ), the accused ought not to be responsible unless it has been proved with reasonable certainty that he caused the death by the careless administration of the drug. In this case we have’ a native doctor administering a drug which requires the most skilful handling and committing an offence under section 22 of the Medical Practitioners’ Ordinance The prosecution should have adduced evidence that the accused was unlicensed. This is often overlooked but an inference can be drawn from the fact that he was a native doctor, administered the injection which is only allowed in the ase of a person licensed (he clearly was not from the circumstances of the case and has never suggested that he was) Wand the results which have been shown to follow the administration of the drug. The correct direction is that of Watson, B., in Reg. v. Crick (4) that, if he took upon himself the responsibility of attending to a patient when he was not qualified for the purpose and if he used a dangerous drug he was bound to bring skill to its use, that the prisoner’s education and employment made the use of this dangerous drug amount to a want of skill which caused or accelerated the death of the deceased.
There cannot be the slightest doubt in this case that it has been established that the accused was guilty of criminal negligence and rightly convicted of manslaughter.