R v Wacker

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Citation: R v Wacker [2003] QB 1207.

This information can be found in the textbook, [1] pp 275-278.


Background Facts

  • The defendant drove a lorry with 60 hidden Chinese illegal immigrants in a refrigerated container - the air vent was sealed to alleviate detection. Upon arrival, 58 had died by suffocation.
  • Wacker was charged and convicted of 58 counts of manslaughter and conspiracy to facilitate the entry of illegal immigrants into the UK.
  • He appealed the conviction under the basis that civil law rules regarding duty of care don’t apply where there is a joint illegal activity.

Legal issues


Kay LJ; Colman and Ouseley LJJ:

  • What Wacker had referred to was ex turpi causa non oriter octio or ‘no action arises out of a dishonourable cause’ - he cites Saunders v Edwards [2]
  • Their honours acknowledge the different remedies available under criminal vs. civil law, as criminal law is concerned with the protection of citizens and provides the state with the right to try those who have deprived citizens of their rights.
  • They also say that accepting the risk of bodily harm or death does not extinguish your ability to be protected under civil law - the illegality of euthanasia is a prime example of this.
  • They accept that there was a blatantly obvious duty of care that was established - Wacker knew that no one could prevent them suffocating but him.
  • ‘The duty to take care cannot, as a matter of public policy, be permitted to be affected by the countervailing demands of the criminal enterprise.’
  • Hence, the court accepts that it was a criminal issue and it was manslaughter, as per the Jury’s original decision.


  1. Prue Vines, Law and Justice in Australia: Foundations of the Legal System, (2nd ed, Melbourne, Oxford University Press, 2009).
  2. [1987] 1 WLR 1116, 1134.
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