R v Dudley and Stephens – Case Analysis
R v Dudley and Stephens, a well-known case involving the taboo act of cannibalism, raises the debatable question of whether necessity should be used as a defence. The case demonstrates how the beastly side of human nature is activated when faced with helplessness and the threat of death. The circumstance is that four men from the Mignonette, an English ship, are caught in a storm and are stranded in a boat thousands of miles from shore, without enough food or water. They are left with nothing but the immense sea and no sight of land until their meagre food runs out. After seven days with no food or water, the captain of the ship, Thomas Dudley, tries to draw a tonne to kill one of the four men so that the remaining three can live by eating his meat, which Edward Stephans agrees to. The cabin boy Richard Parker was not contacted, and Ned Brooks declined to follow the method. After a few days, Dudley and Stephens made the decision to murder the baby. Following the murder, the three men feasted on the boy’s flesh for four days before being saved. Both men were convicted in Falmouth first, and released on parole, before facing a magistrate, Baron Huddleston, and a jury in Exeter in November.
The jury returned a special decision at the judge’s request, laying out the evidence and leaving it up to the judges to determine if the men were guilty of murder. This technique had been forgotten for a long time before it was resurrected for the occasion in 1884. The case was agreed to be heard by a bench of five judges from the Queen’s Bench Division in London, using numerous procedural instruments. They were found to be murderers. They were first sentenced to death, but their term was later changed to life in jail. It was decided that necessity is not a valid excuse for committing a crime.
- Whether necessity can be claimed as a defense for murder and can it make the act permissible?
- Whether killing of the boy to save one’s own life, in this case, be termed as an act of self-defense?
The case revolves around a few key issues.
First, we must consider how to compare the worth of one’s life to that of another. The fact that Richard Parker was selected to be murdered means that his life was deemed less valuable than the lives of the others, owing to the fact that Richard was an orphan with no one to care for. Even if killing one individual was necessary to live, it is unethical or unfair to destroy the weakest and most unresisting. If this pattern of picking on the poorest people lasts before the rescue comes, so everyone is justified in murdering and therefore not guilty of murder.
Second, the situation revolves around the use of self-defense. According to the constitution, a person can only be justified in taking another’s life if it is in self-defense against the person whose life was taken. This law, however, should not apply in this case because Parker was ill and did not pose a danger to the men? As a result, the man cannot invoke self-defense as an excuse because the unresisting boy did not provoke the men in any way, inferred or otherwise, to take such dramatic action. Furthermore, self-defense, which includes the defence of another, is reasonably versatile to permit the use of force in advance of an attack, as long as the individual using force feels his or her actions are justified and the use of force is logically rational in light of the circumstances. The condition is very different in this case because Parker is not involved at some stage.
Third, the defendants assuredly robbed the boy of some hope of life by murdering him, which in itself an unethical act. It was likely that the men would be saved the next day, in which case killing the boy would be a “profitless” act.
The fourth and most critical question is whether assassination is acceptable when someone wears a suit of need. In basic words, necessity is the use of violence to repel that is, violence that is rational, justified, and essential in order to deter an immoral act against oneself. There are two types of necessity that justify homicide:
- Necessity which is of private nature
- Necessity dealing with public welfare.
Self-defense, which has already been discussed, is the first form that is applicable in this situation. However, there was actual murder in this instance because the lure to which the defendants resorted was not what the statute refers to as “necessity.” To excuse murder, necessity must be unavoidable. Furthermore, the principle of “necessity” can apply to everyone, not just the boy who was in a difficult situation.
The court failed to make a clear distinction between reason and excuse. The defence of necessity is seen as a strong argument in the classical view, while the modern view characterises it as a rationale but struggles to capture the kind of reason it is. “What is done out of necessity is involuntary and not accompanied by thought,” according to Aristotle’s Magna Moralia. It has little bearing on the outcome of the lawsuit. If the suspect used necessity as a justification, the defendant would be considered criminal but not punishable. Allowing the protection to be used as a justification will eventually degrade the scheme, encouraging people to overestimate the risk they face and succumb to temptation easily. Furthermore, necessity only offers narrow rationale for rendering an act legally appropriate, but it does not guarantee that the act is the best practicable solution in a given situation. Second, the victim’s integrity is harmed by the infringement of his or her rights.
The two defendants’ decision to murder the boy was based on utilitarian values. The philosophy, as stated by Jeremy Bentham, states that “the just thing to do is to maximise utility,” or the balance of joy over suffering, satisfaction over sorrow. This theory is based on the maximisation of gratification. It prioritises the public benefit for a larger group of individuals. The morality of a certain act is determined by comparing the act’s costs and benefits. The best thing to do is determined by the repercussions of an action, according to consequentialist moral logic. According to the defendants, killing Parker was justified and encouraged by these beliefs. The accused were optimising their own satisfaction or enjoyment, because if they murdered someone in this manner, they did no wrong in their minds because their acts had a positive outcome, namely their own life, and therefore their behaviour was fine. In this situation, the theory leads to citizens bringing the rules into their own hands. There is a point where there is a conflict. When we look at it from the boy’s point of view, these rules are clearly broken. In any case, his death will not increase his satisfaction or enjoyment, nor will it be a positive decision because the outcome will be negative for him. The principle of categorical moral logic is introduced here. Immanuel Kant proposed it, arguing that it is not only the result of an act, but also its inherent quality, i.e. such duties and rights must demand our respect and must be intrinsically wrong or right. Cultural Absolutism is a similar philosophy that proposes that there are absolute principles by which moral issues should be measured, implying that certain acts are intrinsically right or wrong independent of societal or individual values and objectives. This theory was popularised by Immanuel Kant. Dudley and Stephans have no legal authority to kill the boy, refusing him every hope of life and preferring death for him. It was unethical to give in to temptation and then hide under the guise of “necessity.” What makes you wonder why Parker was chosen? He’s frail and unresisting, and he “might” have died sooner or later. The defendants have no right to take advantage of the case. The case would have been different if Parker had died of natural causes. And if Parker had agreed to be murdered, with or without a lottery, the murder’s morality is debatable. It would have been a different matter if Parker had been approached after the vote to draw lots, then Parker would have exercised his right to a fair process and equal care. Sailing and seaman practised cannibalism as a common act during the 19th century, although there were certain restrictions. To ensure justice, a drawing of lots was required, as well as the consent of all those present. This was the correct procedure at the time, and it was the best thing to do. The cannibals Dudley and Stephens were not the first of their day. Maybe they were pursued because they didn’t follow the process and lied, based on a wild guess. All changed after the decision. Cannibalism was universally criticised for its savagery and barbarism, and the sea tradition was rejected as a blasphemous plea to god to sanction slaughter.
This case established a sound legal precedent. By stopping offenders from taking the rules into their own hands, it reinforces the legal system. No offence can be justified on the basis of necessity. Morality entails more than just doing what is right; it also entails a general regard for another being.