R v Instan – Case Summary

The Queen v Instan

Crown Court

Citations: [1893] 1 QB 450.


The defendant lived with her aunt, who provided the defendant financial support. For the last ten days of the aunt’s life, she suffered from a disease which stopped her from moving. She was unable to get help for herself. The defendant failed to get help for her aunt. She also failed to provide her food, and informed no one of her condition. She had the opportunity to provide help, and during that time took in food deliveries paid for with the aunt’s money. The aunt died as a result.

The defendant was charged with gross negligence manslaughter. She argued that she was not guilty of this offence. This was because she owed her aunt no duty to feed her or get help.

  1. Did the defendant owe her aunt a duty of care?

The defendant was convicted. The court held that she did owe her aunt a duty of care at the very least to feed her.

This Case is Authority For…

Lord Coleridge CJ stressed that not every moral obligation leads to a legal duty, but that all legal duties are based on a moral duty. The duty in this case appears to have arise out of a combination of these factors:

  • The defendant was the only one who knew of the aunt’s condition and so was the only one who could help;
  • The defendant had a family relationship with the aunt, lived with her and had been supported by her;
  • The food which the defendant took delivery of was paid for by the aunt and intended at least partly for her consumption.