Case Summary: R v S (2016)

A judge had been entitled to rule that evidence of amphetamine in a mother’s flat was relevant to whether she was reckless or indifferent to her child’s safety in a trial for cruelty to a child under 16. On a charge of child cruelty in the form of willful neglect, the prosecution was not confined to adducing evidence of the specific act of negligence causing the injury to the child.

A mother appealed against her conviction for cruelty to a child under 16.

Her 18-month-old child had fallen from the window of her flat. She was accused of willfully neglecting the child in a manner likely to expose her to injury. At trial, a passer-by had given evidence that four days prior to the incident she had seen the child crawling along a window ledge by an open window. The Crown applied to adduce evidence of the discovery of a small quantity of amphetamine in a jar on the kitchen work surface. The judge ruled that the amphetamine evidence was relevant to the mother’s state of mind and that, under the Criminal Justice Act 2003 s.98(a), it had to do with the facts charged. He ruled that, even if that was incorrect, he would admit the amphetamine evidence as bad character evidence. He refused the mother’s application to exclude the amphetamine evidence on the grounds of unfair prejudice, but warned the jury against labelling the mother as an amphetamine user, stating that the fact that the drug was prohibited was irrelevant. He directed the jury to treat it as the same as if a lawful medicine had been found and that the pertinent question was whether it was relevant.

The issues were whether (1) the amphetamine evidence was relevant; (2) under s.98 of the Act, the amphetamine evidence had to do with the facts charged; (3) the amphetamine evidence fell to be excluded as unfairly prejudicial. The mother submitted that, by the judge stating that amphetamine was a class B drug, together with details of the quantity found, so much emphasis had been given to the issue that it might well have loomed large in the jury’s mind.

HELD: (1) The judge had been correct to find that the amphetamine evidence was relevant to whether the mother at the time was reckless or indifferent to her child’s safety. On a charge of child cruelty in the form of willful neglect, the prosecution was not confined to adducing evidence of the specific act of negligence causing the injury to the child. Evidence of general neglect at or around the time of the incident was admissible. Accordingly, evidence of the presence of a substance dangerous for a child to ingest arguably within a child’s reach was relevant. Its weight was for the jury to decide.

(2) The judge had been right to find that the amphetamine evidence had to do with the facts charged. Unlike the more difficult type of case where evidence of general neglect was removed in time from the critical incident, the amphetamines were present at the time of the child’s fall.

(3) The judge had not erred in refusing the mother’s application to exclude the amphetamine evidence as unfairly prejudicial and his treatment of the issue could not be criticised in the light of his direction to the jury to decide if the evidence helped at all. The evidence against the mother as a whole was very strong; there was clear evidence from which the jury was entitled to conclude that she was reckless in allowing her daughter for the second time in a few days to crawl along a ledge close to an open window.

Appeal dismissed

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