Table of Contents

Table of Contents

Duty of Care

The "R" in "R v ..." stands for "Regina", which is Latin for the Queen. This is because public criminal prosecutions are usually brought in the Queen's name. This case is from the UK, which is why the Queen's name is used. The equivalent in your country may be "The People", "The State", "The Commonwealth", etc.

Fanny, Stone and Dobinson

The year was 1972. A young woman named Fanny arrived at the household of her brother, Stone, and his partner, Dobinson. Fanny suffered from anorexia, and was seeking the help of her family to take care of her, as she was unable to take care of herself. She refused to go to the doctor, for fear of being "put away".

Of course, Stone and Dobinson weren't in a great position either. Stone, a 67 year old man, was severely disabled, being partially blind and deaf, and having a below average intelligence. Dobinson also had learning difficulties, even being reported as unable to use a telephone. They lived with their disabled adult son, Cyril.

Fanny was placed in a room without proper ventilation, and inadequate food, water and hygiene facilities. Dobinson would wash her and feed her, with the help of the neighbors, but it wasn't enough. The couple were unable to take care of her, and she got worse over time. Some neighbors suggested contacting a doctor, but neither husband nor wife were able to do so successfully, being unable to use a telephone. Stone was even found wandering the streets trying to find a doctor to help his sister, but had ended up in the wrong town. Their son's social worker was also unaware of Fanny's condition. Soon, in 1976, Fanny died of malnutrition, immobilisation, and toxemia spreading from infected bed sores.

Stone and Dobinson were charged with manslaughter.

The Case

The prosecution argued that the couple had undertaken a duty of care towards a person who was unable to take care of herself. This was furthered by the fact that Fanny had lived in their home, and was a blood relative of one of the defendants. Hence, by being related and taking care of Fanny, they had a duty to keep her alive and well. Her death meant that the couple had been negligent and failed to fulfill their duty, and so were guilty of manslaughter.

According to UK law, a manslaughter is an unlawful killing without an intention to kill or cause harm. Since neither Stone nor Dobinson had any intention to harm or kill Fanny, they were charged with manslaughter, and not murder.

The defense claimed that, seeing as both Stone and Dobinson were handicapped, they would have been incapable of undertaking a duty of care towards Fanny in the first place. Hence, the decline in her condition was not something for which the couple should be responsible. In addition, the blood relation did not matter as Fanny was paying rent for the room she was provided. Dobinson's kind and helpful behaviour of feeding also did not establish a duty of care, as simply helping someone out does not imply any duty towards them. In court, Dobinson even claimed "she is not my sister", which definitely does not imply any duty of care by her towards Fanny.

In the end, however, the jury decided that by taking Fanny in, the couple was responsible for her well-being, and so they were found guilty of manslaughter and gross negligence.

The discussion

The outcome of this case has sparked many debates about how duty of care works exactly.

On one hand, it makes sense that they were found guilty. Taking someone in and caring for them, especially if they're not in a position to take care of themselves, is, by definition, undertaking a duty of care. Even if the person undertaking that duty is not capable of having such a responsibility, they are still doing so, and so are responsible for her well-being. If they had been found not guilty, then that would imply that there was no consequence for improperly taking care of someone who could not do so themselves.

On the other hand, it raises a question of where the line for duty of care is. If I see my brother drowning, and I jump in to try to save them, am I now undertaking a duty of care towards him? It would certainly fit the situation: he's drowning, which means he is not in a position to properly care for himself. If I dive in to try to save him, am I undertaking a duty of care towards him? If I am unable to save him, will I be charged with manslaughter? What about non-familial relationships, if it's a partner that's suffering from a mental illness, or a friend, or even a stranger, would I still be undertaking a duty of care towards them? There's an argument that says I would not necessarily be responsible for their well-being, because simply helping someone does not imply any duty towards them.

Of course, these are all situations in which I am unable to get professional help for the person. Maybe there isn't anyone else nearby to save my brother from drowning, or I am unable to afford a doctor for my partner or friend. These are all situations that are probably real for many people around the world, and were true in Stone's and Dobinson's case as well.

Conclusion

R v Stone and Dobinson is an interesting case about duty of care, and I believe anyone who reads about it will have their own opinion on what the outcome should have been. Some will believe they were wrongly accused, while others will agree with the decision. Much of this comes down to their own experiences and perception.

One of the major questions of this case was setting where the line for duty of care lies. Have it too far one way, and we have a lot of people not being taken care of properly since the carers claim they have no duty of care. Have it too far the other way, and no one will be willing to help anyone else, for fear of being charged with manslaughter as they had unwillingly undertaken duty of care and failed to provide for the person.

Ultimately, as is true with most aspects of law and life, a balance must be reached.

I am not a lawyer, and I do not have any experience with how the law actually works. I just heard about this case from someone and found it interesting enough to write a blog post about. There's probably a lot of things I may have gotten wrong, because I simply don't know what I don't know about law. If you are in a situation similar to the one described in this post, or simply want to know more about this case or law in general, I'd advise you to seek out a lawyer or law professor. They'd be far more helpful than me.

Sources

R v Stone and Dobinson Case Summary - studocu

Regina v Stone and Dobinson: CACD 1977 - swarb.co.uk

R v Stone and Dobinson - 1977 - LawTeacher

R v Stone and Dobinson 1977 | Criminal Law - UOLLB First Class Law Notes

R v Stone and Dobinson - Case note - studocu

R v STONE; R v DOBINSON [1977] 2 All ER 341 (CA) - Oxford University Press

R v Stone and Dobinson [1977] QB 354 - Oxbridge notes

Homicide: Murder and Manslaughter - The Crown Prosecution Service