R v Pittwood – Case Summary

R v Pittwood

Crown Court

Citations: (1902) 19 TLR 37.


The defendant’s job was to operate a level crossing on the railway track. He left the gate lifted up while he went on his lunch break. While he was gone, a horse and cart passed through the gate. A train hit the horse and cart, killing the driver. The defendant was convicted of gross negligence manslaughter. He appealed his conviction. He argued that it was not possible to commit manslaughter by omission, nor to rely on a contractual duty to act.

  1. Can a person commit gross negligence manslaughter by omission?
  2. Can a contractual duty to act translate into a criminal duty to act?

The Court upheld the conviction. The contractual duty to act put the defendant under a criminal duty to act. This was partially because the contractual duty was for the public’s benefit, not just a private benefit between the defendant and his employer.

This Case is Authority For…

It is possible to commit gross negligence manslaughter by omission where the defendant is under a duty to act.


This case shows that a contractual duty can put a person under a duty to act in criminal law.