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Should we have a legal duty to rescue?

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  • View Poll Results: Should we have a legal duty to rescue?
    We should rescue all those in danger
    10
    27.03%
    We should rescue only our friends and family
    2
    5.41%
    We should not have to rescue anyone
    25
    67.57%

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    You may be familiar with a recent news story involving two ‘hobby bobbies’ (community support officers) allegedly watching a child drown because they were under no legal duty to rescue.

    http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/england/cornwall/7022031.stm


    Now, let me present a hypothetical situation,

    A baby is drowning in a small padding pool in a public park. The baby is evidently struggling, thrashing about and gasping for air. A businessman (or woman) is on their way to catch a train and they spot the baby. It would take very little effort and a few seconds of his time to lift the infant from the pool and thus save the child’s life. However the businessman thinks “I’m late for my train and I can’t be bothered” and so, the infant drowns to death. In English law, this is a perfectly acceptable scenario and no liability will arise. However in other jurisdictions, such as France for example, the law recognizes an (albeit limited) duty to rescue.

    Do you think that English law has got it right, or do you think we should have a duty to rescue? How far should that duty extend?
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    No legal obligations, no.

    It's a despicable thing to do, to just watch someone die, but I certainly don't believe there should be legal obligations for many reasons.
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    (Original post by Tufts)
    You may be familiar with a recent news story involving two ‘hobby bobbies’ (community support officers) allegedly watching a child drown because they were under no legal duty to rescue.
    Whoa, hold back, 'hobbie bobbies' is the term reserved for special constables (ie, the people who are police officers in their spare time). Community support officers are just randomers who generally lack the qualities/abilities to pass the entrance exams and vetting, and so they have only a fraction of the powers and training. Big difference.

    And, again, we don't know the full story. The media will happily portray how 2 community support officers watched a child drown, but they fail to explain the conditions like whether the people involved could actually swim, etc. Then there's the exaggerations like saying the child was drowning in a small 'pond' when you're actually looking at a small lake 8ft deep at its shallowest where even an adult would struggle.

    In English law, this is a perfectly acceptable scenario and no liability will arise. However in other jurisdictions, such as France for example, the law recognizes an (albeit limited) duty to rescue.
    Well i actually have a relative who is a civil servant who was actually taken to court by a victim's family on the basis that they didn't give adequate first aid and that they made negligent decisions which ultimately led to the death of the victim. Then there's the story of the off duty policeman and nurse who were taken to court by the family of Steven Lawrence on the basis that they didn't give adequate first aid on the basis of his ethnicity. There are many more similar stories to be told. On that basis i know of many off duty police officers, doctors, etc who say that if they witness an accident they will keep driving because it simply isn't worth the hassle of say, trying your best to save someone's life and then being taken to court for the privelage, hmm, sounds finger lickin good... So you could say that english law does recognise someone's duty to rescue ableit, in a very negative way.

    And how do you expect to enforce such action? What type of sentences? You could potentially make situations a hell of a lot worse by introducing laws concerning a duty to rescue as people become obliged/compelled to do risky acts in order to rid themselves of liability. For example if we look at the 'pond' death kid, we might see the PCSOs jumping in to save the kid even though they can't swim leading to 3 deaths and not just one. What's better 3 deaths or 1?

    Sure, if you can give help and you don't thats pretty sad, but what's wrong with people who genuinely can't give quality help not giving help?
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    Would you make giving a homeless person a blanket, or money, the law? they could be dying.
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    Leave it as it is. I imagine most peopel woudl step in anyway

    WRT to the case you gave an exmaple - by the sounds of it it soudns like the bobbies were right to stay out of the water so I think ti only supports the argument.
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    Totally depends on the situation as well. You can easily get sued for doing harm to the injured person despite the fact you saved their life. As long as you're not working for the emergency service and don't have your actions insured I'd stay away.
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    Its not a legal duty, but a moral one.

    I think the case the OP highlighted shows the risk-adverse culture and "sueing" culture we are developing as a society, so is more of a societal problem than a legal one.

    Although as far as i am aware if you are involved in a car accident you have a legal duty to stay at the scene... so i guess it depends on how you define "involved".
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    (Original post by ch0c0h01ic)

    Well i actually have a relative who is a civil servant who was actually taken to court by a victim's family on the basis that they didn't give adequate first aid and that they made negligent decisions which ultimately led to the death of the victim. Then there's the story of the off duty policeman and nurse who were taken to court by the family of Steven Lawrence on the basis that they didn't give adequate first aid on the basis of his ethnicity.
    Were any of these people prosecuted? Do they now have criminal records?

    (Original post by ch0c0h01ic)
    Sure, if you can give help and you don't thats pretty sad, but what's wrong with people who genuinely can't give quality help not giving help?
    Is that a retorical question, or was it aimed at someone?
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    (Original post by Tufts)
    Were any of these people prosecuted? Do they now have criminal records?
    No they weren't prosecuted but the fact that they were taken to court when they had the best intentions at heart is completely wrong. These cases went on for signicant periods of time and were very stressful. Sure, if you're a good police officer you're certainly going to have at least one complaint or case above your head but then again most of those are just meaningless acts to avoid prosecution, not a good act being rewarded by a court appearance.

    (Original post by Tufts)
    Is that a retorical question, or was it aimed at someone?
    Its whatever you want it to be. From what i remember when i was writing it, it was a rhetorical question and i can't see any malice or aiming in it? (Sorry another rhetorical question)
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    Legal obligation, no. Moral obligation, possibly.

    In the example you gave, where there was no risk to the rescuer, I think they are morally obligated to help. But if the baby was 100m out in a choppy ocean, the risk to the rescuer would be immense, and they should not be looked down upon for not jumping in.
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    (Original post by ch0c0h01ic)
    No they weren't prosecuted but the fact that they were taken to court when they had the best intentions at heart is completely wrong. These cases went on for signicant periods of time and were very stressful. Sure, if you're a good police officer you're certainly going to have at least one complaint or case above your head but then again most of those are just meaningless acts to avoid prosecution, not a good act being rewarded by a court appearance.
    I was confused by your quote: "So you could say that english law does recognise someone's duty to rescue ableit, in a very negative way"

    English law recognises a duty to rescue in cases of blood relation (i.e. sister, nephew, mother) and in cases of proximity of accomodation (inviting someone to stay and then neglecting them for example). Not in the instances you mentioned.

    Also, medical professionals are allowed to act with a certain degree of imcompetence before they are criminally liable.
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    (Original post by Tufts)

    English law recognises a duty to rescue in cases of blood relation (i.e. sister, nephew, mother)
    Wait, so we're legally obliged to (try and) rescue our relatives?

    (Original post by Tufts)
    Also, medical professionals are allowed to act with a certain degree of imcompetence before they are criminally liable.
    And most of them know exactly when not to get involved. Nobody cares if they're inexperienced. Dodgy boundaries they have. Basically it is very easy to sue someone who has got physically involved in an accident.
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    I don't think it would be practically possible to enforce.
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    Lord, no.

    Very much a moral obligation though.
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    Anyone who chooses not to live at subsistence level and give the entire rest of their income to Oxfam is probably responsible for failing to "rescue" a starving African...

    So by the logic which says we have a legal duty to rescue, we should turn our entire country into a giant prison. (It seems to be increasingly resembling that anyway, as it happens...)
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    Let us not come to the point where the legislature dictates our morals. Depending on the situation and individual competance there may be a moral obligation - but the individual should be allowed to appraise the risk and act with his own self interest in mind without being taken to Court for it.

    In your example, I'd say the businessman/woman - should they be of able body is morally obligated to lend succour in some fashion - whether by interveaning directly or hailing medical assistance. If however say a 5 year old child passes by - would they also have the same obligation - taking into consideration the increased risk and possible incompetance?
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    (Original post by Tufts)
    English law recognises a duty to rescue in cases of blood relation (i.e. sister, nephew, mother) and in cases of proximity of accomodation (inviting someone to stay and then neglecting them for example). Not in the instances you mentioned.
    Nonsense.

    There is no duty based on blood relation per se. At common law the duty arises from an assumption of responsibility [Ridley (1811)], hence there would be no duty for a parent to rescue their drowning 30 year old son whom they hadn't seen for ten years previously. There are also statutory duties in the case of parent and child under the age of 16 [Children and Yound Persons Act 1933]. But apart from that there's not even a duty of easy rescue vis-a-vis, for example, your spouse unless an assumption of responsibility is inferred [Smith (1977)].

    Likewise, simply inviting someone to stay won't in itself create such a duty. In Stone and Dobson the key point was that the defendants had begun to care for Stone's sister and hence were taken to have assumed responsibility for her care. If they had simply left her in her room to die they wouldn't have been convicted of manslaughter, simple as that.
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    (Original post by The Macabre Vincent Price...)
    No legal obligations, no.

    It's a despicable thing to do, to just watch someone die, but I certainly don't believe there should be legal obligations for many reasons.
    :ditto:
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    Well, if you told me you were drowning
    I would not lend a hand
    Ive seen your face before my friend
    But I dont know if you know who I am


    Or to sum up Mr. Collins - no.

    Although I'd like to think someone would save me if I were droowning.
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    English law does have duty of care obligations, though they are limited. It all depends on whether you owe a particular person a duty of care, by virtue of being a parent, a teacher, a policeman, etc. People who take up the position of care could be prosecuted on omission grounds. But for complete strangers? Hell no. Noone should have to put themselves out for other people. The line would be impossible to draw. There could be an argument for having a duty to help if your own life or health isn't put at any risk while carrying out that help i suppose, but then would that be an objective or subjective test? The perception of whether you are in danger when helping would differ from person to person. It wouldn't do to have laws in place which force people to act in this manner. One hopes that good nature alone is enough.

    We only hear the odd silly story- like those morons who let that kid drown. But compare the amount of those types of stories you hear about, to the number of tedious rescue stories we read, and the picture we get is of a generally helpful and willing society- and the best aspect of this nature is that it isn't forced by law, and so we can be warmed in the knowledge that most people are nice out of inner compulsion.

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