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R v Dudley and Stephens

[1884] 14 QBD 273

Case summary last updated at 13/01/2020 14:38 by the Oxbridge Notes in-house law team.

Judgement for the case R v Dudley and Stephens

 Ds were on a raft after shipwreck and having gone 7 days without food and 5 without water they decided to kill and eat V who was the weakest and looked like he would die soon anyway. Later they were rescued. Ds argued that since there was no prospect of rescue at the time of the killing (accepted by court) that there ought to be a defence of necessity. HL upheld convictions for murder. Lord Coleridge said that even though temptation in this case would be insurmountable, the law sometimes has to set up unrealistically high standards (presumably to assert the principle that each individual has a right not to be killed) and compassion for D doesn’t change the legal definition. Lord Coleridge said that sometimes one had a duty to sacrifice one’s own life and that one could obviously not be a fair judge of necessity when one has an interest: i.e. D was taking the decision about whether it was worth sacrificing another for his sake. 

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