Partial defence: Necessity

I had a lucid dream last night pertaining to the case of Regina v. Dudley and Stephens. I literally have no idea why did I dream about it. Perhaps I was hardly thinking about the previous finals where I do have to admit that I didn’t do well enough and I shouldn’t put the blame on anyone but myself. Whatever, I don’t wanna talk about it. Let it go…

So, talking about the case of Stephens and Dudley, it makes me think whether by taking someone else’s life would be the right thing to do in terms on surviving? Of course, people will say no. Yeah everyone will have the same view, same goes to me. Yet, how sure are you that you wouldn’t do the same thing if you were in such a state of hunger and all you can think is to survive no matter what happens. Or else you’ll die of starvation.

Regarding to the case of Stephens and Dudley, just to have a crystal clear view, here is some of the facts of the case. Dudley and Stephens along with Brooks and Parker which is the victim were cast away at sea without weeks of food and water except for some turnips and a turtle. After twenty days, Dudley and Stephens proposed one person sacrifice himself in order to save the rest. Brooks dissented while Dudley and Stephens decided to kill Parker since he was the weakest and youngest. On the 25th of July, seeing no rescue in sight, the two men killed Parker and the three men feasted on his body. Four days later a vessel rescued them and Dudley and Stephens were charged with murder. Thus, the issue arose of whether the killing of Parker was murder considering the circumstances of this case. The court however held that it was a murder, in light of the fact that killing an innocent person in order to save one’s life does not justify murder although if it under extreme necessity of hunger.

As per to the Roman law where it has a maxim for it, necessitas indicit privilegium quoad jura privita which brings the meaning of  – from necessity spring privileges upon private rights. There were tonnes of various opinions made by judges, but both of the accused persons were still found guilty and will be sentenced to death by hanging.

Nevertheless, at this point, conviction, Dudley and Stephens expected. But they also expected to be pardoned forthwith and not suffer the sentence; death by hanging. The judgment made by  Chief Justice Coleridge where he stated that, “Even should they be pronounced technically guilty of the offence charged against them, we may be sure that the prerogative of pardon will be exercised.”

Hence, the Queen came through and granted conditional pardons to Dudley and Stephens, on the condition that they each serve six month prison terms, which they completed upon their release on May 20, 1885. But, I am of the opinion where the pardons shouldn’t be granted, this is due to they themselves should’ve known at the first place that killing someone is absolutely wrong although there is no mens rea of doing it, the actus reus per se is enough to constitute a crime. Plus, this is clear to be said so because Dudley and Stephens chose the weakest and youngest to kill and it was not more necessary to kill him than any of the other grown men. They both 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.

After all, the significance of R v. Dudley and Stephens lies in the fact, decisively and absolutely laid down the common-law, civilized principle that life is very precious that human life is to be protected at all costs except for the traditional defenses of justification and excuse, and that the defense of necessity is no excuse that life shall not, under such circumstances, be taken or sacrificed even to preserve one’s own life.

In conclusion, yes it is a murder. The necessity of hunger does not justify larceny, let alone murder.


…Can be related to the case of The Speluncean Explorers, a study made by Professor Lord Fuller.

F.R

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