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Regina v. Dudley and Stephens

Queen’s Bench Division
14 Q.B. 273 (Queen's Bench Division 1884)



Thomas Dudley and Edwin Stephens (defendants) were on the crew of an English yacht, along with fellow seamen Brooks and Richard Parker. Due to a storm, the men were lost at sea in an open boat for approximately twenty-four days. They had no water except for occasional rainwater, and little food. After over a week without any food, Dudley and Stephens approached Parker, who was sick and in a much weaker state, and slit his throat. The three remaining men fed off Parker’s body for four days until a passing ship rescued them. Dudley and Stephens were put on trial in order to determine whether the act of killing Parker was murder. The jury determined that the men would not have survived to the time of rescue if they had not fed off Parker’s body and that, at the time, it was reasonable to assume they would die of starvation before they were rescued. The jury also determined that Parker would likely have died before the other three men. The jury made these conclusions of fact but was ultimately unable to reach a verdict as to Dudley and Stephens’ culpability. It instead submitted a special verdict requesting the court to determine Dudley and Stephens’s culpability based on its findings of fact.

Rule of Law


Holding and Reasoning (Coleridge, C.J.)

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