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Citation: Royall (1991) 172 CLR 378.

This information can be found in the Textbook: Brown et al, Criminal Laws: Materials and Commentary on Criminal Law and Process in New South Wales, (5th edition, Federation Press, 2011), pp. 491-5.


Background facts

  • The Defendant [Royall] assaulted the deceased in his (the defendant's) apartment after an argument.
  • It was impossible to prove exactly how, but the deceased ended up falling out of the window and dying.
  • There was evidence of a struggle (indicating the Defendant might have pushed her out), whilst the Defendant claimed that the deceased jumped out of her own free will (to commit suicide).


  • The prosecution charged the Defendant for murder under three possible scenarios, the relevant one being that the deceased jumped out trying to escape the Defendant, whom she thought was trying to kill her.

Legal issues


  • All of the judges more or less agreed on the general notion that if the defendant harms the victim, and the the victim then performs an act because of a reasonable, well founded apprehension of physical harm (the victim's act being more or less reasonable as opposed to an overreaction), than the chain of causation is not broken, and the defendant would be considered as 'causing' that act and its consequences.
  • The judges slightly differed in their exact formulation (ie, the 'test' used) to determine whether the chain of causation has been broken.

Mason CJ:

  • The 'natural consequence' test - was the voluntary act of the deceased was a natural consequence of the previous acts of the defendant?
    • '...where the conduct of the accused induces in the victim a well-founded apprehension of physical harm such as to make it a natural consequence (or reasonable) that the victim would seek to escape and the victim is injured in the course of escaping, the injury is caused by the accused's conduct'.[1]

Deane & Dawson JJ:

  • The 'operating and substantial cause' test - was the defendant's conduct was a substantial or operative cause of death?
    • There is no need for a single cause of death. Rather, there is a 'chain of events' which all contribute. As long as the defendant's action was a part of that chain (and the chain wasn't broken by an intervening event), he will be considered as causing the injury.
  • An overreaction (ie, an unreasonable reaction to to the actions of the defendant) can break the chain of causation. However, reasonable actions performed in reaction will not break the chain.


  1. [1991] HCA 27 at [21] (Mason CJ).
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