The June 3 disaster killed over 150 persons in Ghana. Speculations were rife. Finger pointing of who could be liable shored up even without waiting for a thorough investigation into the cause of the disaster. “It was a cigarette smoker,” they concluded. Different accounts and tales were told to implicate him and the ‘big fishes were left to swim ashore.’
30 hours ago, the nation was hit with another disaster that sent a fireball piercing through the Ghanaian skies at night. Government puts up figures that suggest 7 people have been killed so far with many injuries recorded. Incalculable losses have been recorded leaving the nation in a pensive mood.
But hours after the disaster, the accounts of many suggest it was a khebab seller that sells 15 metres away from the gas station that should carry the busload of blame. So, why are we always in haste to point accusing fingers at people when disasters like this strike in Ghana without allowing institutions mandated under our laws to arrive at such conclusions? Don’t we believe in the investigative prowess of these institutions anymore?
I find it very difficult when we state our suspicions as facts and end up making the lives of people miserable when they might not have been the real architects of these terrible ‘designs.’
Remember, actions of people have consequences and such consequences could be subjected to both factual and legal analysis before conclusions could be drawn. In this case, causations of events that happened there matter. In Criminal law ‘Causation is concerned with whether the one we are accusing or the defendant’s conduct contributed sufficiently to the prohibited consequence to justify the criminal liability. These are assessed from two aspects, namely “factual” and “legal” causation.
In ‘Factual causation’ there is a requirement of proof that the defendant’s conduct was a necessary condition of the consequence. This is established by proving that the consequence would not have occurred but for the defendant’s conduct. In this case, the ‘but for test’ is needed where a question could be posed, ‘but for the behaviour or the activity of the defendant, would the tragedy or disaster have happened’?
In this case, one question we could hazard is, ‘but for the leakage of the gas at the gas station would the khebab seller’s fire have caused the disaster? Do answer it in your head and let’s move on to the legal causation bit.
In ‘Legal causation’ there is also a requirement of proof that the defendant’s conduct was sufficiently connected to its occurrence. This could be merely established if the defendant’s conduct was an operating and substantial (not trivial) conduct, but not necessarily the only cause of the consequence when there are two or more legal causes of the same consequence. Assuming without admitting that the khebab seller’s fire was connected to the occurrence, would we arrive at a conclusion that the khebab seller’s action was an operating and substantial conduct in this disaster?
Well, difficulties emerge when there is something that happened after the defendant’s conduct. This is what is called an intervening factor. It is worthy of note that not every intervening factor amounts to a ‘novus actus interveniens’ (an intervention of an unforeseeable event that occurs after the defendant’s negligent act and operates to precipitate or worsen the plaintiff’s loss. In this case, the defendant is not liable for the loss precipitated or aggravated by such an event) which is ‘voluntary’ and independent thus breaking the chain of causation. Naturally Occurring Events And Reasonably Foreseeable Events are not generally treated as breaking the chain of causation because of its predictable effect. So, was it foreseeable that the khebab seller would be there at the time to undertake his usual khebab selling?
I end this article with the case of ‘R v Blaue’ where the defendant was liable for the death of the victim after a blood transfusion. And it was affirmed in many cases that a victim’s failure to seek or follow medical treatment or advice, even ‘unreasonable’, will not be treated as ‘a novus actus interveniens’ (explained above). Furthermore, improper or negligent medical treatment, necessitated as a result of the defendant’s infliction of injuries upon the victim, will not break the chain of causation as well. In the present disaster, would we say, if the gas had not leaked, the khebab seller would have sparked this disaster? Was the khebab seller’s activity the operating and substantial cause of this disaster?
I pray, we hasten slowly before manufacturing victims. I think the khebab seller needs to eat. His scavenging for his daily bread should not be disturbed if he was going about his duties rightfully.
Let’s wait for proper investigations to be carried out before jumping into conclusions. We need to truncate this nightmare that rocks our beautiful nights. Laws should be allowed to work in this country. We don’t need further laws. We have many in our closets. Let’s allow them to implement the laws. Ghana can be one of the places we use as examples.
Article: Richard Kwadwo Nyarko
Diary of Ananse
…With Kwamena Ananse