CRIMINAL LAW/VULNERABLE ADULTS: R v Khan [2009] EWCA Crim 2

27 JAN 2009

(Court of Appeal; Lord Judge CJ, Forbes and Slade JJ; 16 January 2009)

The 19-year-old girl came to England from Kashmir to marry her cousin; she lived with her husband's mother, his two sisters and a brother-in-law. She spoke no English and was completely dependent on her in-laws. The husband eventually beat her to death in the garage outside the house; there was evidence that the girl had suffered three separate violent attacks, beginning 3 weeks before her death, which caused a number of rib fractures, and extensive very severe bruising. There was no evidence that any other members of the household had been subjected to domestic violence. The husband was convicted of murder and sentenced to life imprisonment. The other members of the household were charged with allowing the death of a vulnerable adult, contrary to Domestic Violence, Crime and Victims Act 2004, s 5(1). The judge directed the jury that the 'frequent contact' required by the Act required no explanation. The other members of the household were convicted, and given prison terms of 12 months, suspended for 2 years (the brother-in-law), 2 years (the husband's two sisters), and 3 years (the husband's mother). They appealed, arguing that the issue of frequent contact had to be examined in the context of the risk against which the victim needed protection, and the defendant's awareness of that risk.

Adults were vulnerable if their ability to protect themselves from 'violence, abuse or neglect' was significantly impaired; the jury had found that the girl was vulnerable after the first violent attack, but could have inferred that this girl, who was utterly dependent on others, was a vulnerable adult even before that. The state of vulnerability envisaged by the Act did not need to be longstanding; it could be short or temporary. A fit adult could become vulnerable as a result of accident or injury or illness; the anticipation of a full recovery might not diminish the individual's temporary vulnerability. The issue of frequent contact was a freestanding question, and was a simple question of fact. The appeals against conviction and sentence were dismissed.

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