The cases that changed Britain: 1972-2006 (Part V)

DPP v Ray
July 27, 1973

This case settled an important principle of law applicable to people caught legging it out of restaurants without paying. It has been applied countless times since. After eating a meal in the Wing Wah restaurant in Gainsborough, Lincolnshire, Roger Ray, a university student, and his three companions decided not to pay. About 10 minutes later, after waiting for the waiter to leave the dining room, they made off. Ray was convicted under the Theft Act (now covered by the Fraud Act 2006) and the conviction was upheld by the House of Lords. The law lords ruled that Ray had impliedly stated in ordering the meal that he intended to pay, and that by remaining in his seat after deciding not to pay had ostensibly continued that earlier implied statement, thereby deceiving the waiter.

Haughton v Smith
November 22, 1973
What happens if someone is attempting to commit a crime that is legally impossible? Is it a criminal attempt? The House of Lords gave the answer in this cops and crooks caper. Police officers stopped a large van on the motorway travelling south from Liverpool and found it contained stolen goods. The police decided to allow the men to continue their journey along the motorway to a service area in order to catch the receivers. One of those waiting, Roger Smith, was later convicted of attempting to handle stolen goods, even though the Crown conceded that at the time of the alleged offence the goods, being in the lawful custody of the police, ceased to be stolen. But the decision was overturned by the House of Lords, which said there could be no conviction in such circumstances. In order to constitute the offence of attempting to handle stolen goods, the goods in question must be stolen. These goods were not because they were in the lawful possession of the police. It is not a crime to try to commit a crime that, in the circumstances, it is impossible to commit.

R v Kovacs
December 22, 1973

This influential criminal law case concerned what happens when someone gets an advantage from one person by having deceived another. Stephanie Kovacs knew that her bank account was overdrawn and that she no longer had authority from her bank to have possession or use of her cheque book or her cheque guarantee card. Nevertheless, she wrote a cheque to pay for a railway ticket costing £2.89. Her bank was bound, because of the cheque guarantee card, to honour the cheque, but Kovacs was convicted of dishonestly obtaining a pecuniary advantage (an increased overdraft) by deception. Her appeal was dismissed. The court held immaterial that the person deceived — the railway clerk — was not the person from whom the pecuniary advantage was obtained by the deception.

Jackson v Horizon Holidays Ltd
February 6, 1974

The sorts of compensation aggrieved holiday makers can claim when things go wrong was one of the key points decided in this case. A family holiday to Sri Lanka was not all it was cracked up to be. Julian Jackson, the father of the family, sued the tour operator and won an award of £1,100 damages for distress and inconvenience. The tour operator appealed. Several legal points were in issue. The court decided that damages for loss of a holiday may include not only the difference in value between what was promised and what was obtained but also damages for mental distress, inconvenience, upset, disappointment and frustration. It stated that where a person had entered into a contract on behalf of himself and others who were not parties to the contract, he could sue on the contract for damages or loss suffered not only by himself but also by the others in consequence of breach of the contract.

Van Duyn v Home Office
December 5, 1974

The UK joined Europe in 1972. This case a few years later concerned how European law should be applied — what was the status of a European directive? Yvonne van Duyn, a Dutch woman, wanted to enter the UK to take up employment with the Church of Scientology. She was refused entry and challenged the decision under a European directive guaranteeing the freedom of movement for workers. The High Court made a preliminary reference to the European Court of Justice (ECJ). The question arose whether the rights conferred under the Article of the EEC Treaty were directly applicable and enforceable by an individual in the courts of a member state. The ECJ ruled that the rights were enforceable without the need for further laws in each state to have been passed.

Attorney-General’s Reference No. 1 of 1975
April 26, 1975
What does the law say in the case of someone who secretly puts alcohol in the drink of a person who then goes on to drive. Such a prank or plot is, of course, dangerous and potentially lethal. This case was an Attorney-General’s Reference, a procedure by which the appeal court can rule on a point of law that the Attorney-General wants clarified. The Court of Appeal was asked to consider the position of an accused who had surreptitiously laced, with double measures of spirits, an otherwise innocuous drink of a friend when he knew the friend would shortly be driving home. As a result, the friend was guilty of driving with an excess of alcohol in his blood. The driver was guilty in that the driving offence is one of strict liability — it doesn’t matter whether you did it on purpose, or accidentally, just that you did it. It was held that the person accused of lacing drinks in these circumstances was guilty as a secondary party provided he knew that his friend was going to drive and also that the alcohol surreptitiously given would bring his blood-alcohol concentration above the prescribed limit. The Court pointed out that the “generous host” who kept his guest’ s glass topped up would not necessarily be guilty in the same way since in that case the guest would be aware of the contents of his glass and could make his own decision as to whether to drive.

R v Blaue
July 17, 1975

In criminal law, can a wrongdoer defend himself by saying his victim’s fate wouldn’t have been so bad if she had not had the unusual beliefs she did have? This case answered that question. Robert Blaue stabbed the victim, who was taken to hospital. The victim, a Jehovah’s Witness, was informed that without a blood transfusion she would probably die. She refused to accept a transfusion as it would have been contrary to her religious beliefs. The accused appealed against his conviction for manslaughter at Teesside crown court on the grounds that the victim’s refusal to accept a blood transfusion broke the chain of causation. The court dismissed the appeal. Those who inflict violence must take their victims as they find them. The victim’s refusal to accept treatment does not break the chain, even if it is an unreasonable belief.

DPP v Majewski
April 14, 1976
In this leading judgment, the House of Lords decided that a person who commits a crime but doesn’t know what he’s doing because he is so inebriated can still be convicted if it is not necessary to prove intention for that particular crime. During the course of a disturbance at a pub in Basildon, Essex, Robert Majewski attacked the landlord and two other people, injuring all three of them. When the police arrived, he assaulted an officer, and later, at the police station where he had been taken, he struck two other officers. He was charged with various assaults. At his trial he testified that during the 48 hours preceding the disturbance he had taken a considerable quantity of drugs and that, at the time when the assaults were committed, he was acting under a combination of amphetamines, barbiturates and alcohol. He didn’t know what he was doing and had no recollection of the incidents in question. He was convicted and his appeal was dismissed. The Lords held that unless the offence was one that required proof of a specific intent, it was no defence to that the accused didn’t intend to commit the act alleged. His recklessness was enough to convict him.

R v Bundy
March 12, 1977

Clever arguments for defendants in criminal cases are sometimes confounded by simple and even cleverer ones for the prosecution. This famous case provides a good example of such a thrust, parry and counter thrust. When Dennis Bundy was stopped by police in his car, he had with him some piping, a hammer, a pipe threader and three pieces of stocking. He had been driving around following a woman who was collecting the takings from vending machines in London pubs with the apparent intention of robbing her. He was convicted of “going equipped” for theft when “not at his place of abode”. Bundy appealed on the grounds that, since he lived rough in his car, it was his abode. But in dismissing the appeal, the court held that his car was his place of abode only when after finding a site he had parked for the night, not when he was in transit.

R v Doukas
December 3, 1977

A major judgment on the charge of going equipped to cheat. Joseph Doukas, a hotel wine waiter, had six bottles of his own wine in his coat pockets when going to work. He intended, when a customer ordered wine, to serve one of these bottles which he’d got very cheaply, to make out a separate bill and keep the money that the hotel customer paid him. The scam was that while the waiter would pocket the customer’s money, the hotel wouldn’t notice any loss of income because none of its own bottles of wine were being taken to the tables by the waiter. And the waiter would be making a profit because there was a big difference between the cheap price of the wine he smuggled in to the hotel and the expensive prices on the wine menu. An important question for the appeal court was whether a charge of going equipped to cheat was sustainable because a customer would not have been deceived if he paid for wine and got wine. Doukas’s appeal was dismissed. It was held that customers were deceived because it was reasonable to assume that they’d never have handed over cash if they’d have known that the wine wasn’t the hotel’s but rather that of the waiter’s personal stock being used in a swindle.

DPP v Camplin
April 11, 1978

This was a leading and groundbreaking decision about the law of provocation. Before this case, defendants on charges of murder could plead provocation only by showing they had the power of self-restraint of an adult, even if they were younger. Paul Camplin, a 15 year-old, hit a 50 year-old man over the head with a chapatti pan and killed him. His defence was provocation. He claimed that the deceased had forcibly had anal intercourse with him and then laughed at him, whereupon Camplin had lost his self-control. The judge at Leeds crown court directed the jury to consider whether the deceased’s actions were enough to make a “reasonable man” do what Camplin did. If they were, the killing could be reduced from murder to manslaughter. The judge told the jury to consider not how a reasonable 15-year-old may have responded, but how an adult man would have responded. That was unfair because an adult man might be expected to show more restraint before using lethal force. The jury convicted Camplin of murder. However, on appeal the House of Lords held that the judge ought not to have instructed the jury to disregard his age.

Jaggard v Dickinson
July 26, 1980
People rolling up drunk at the wrong address and breaking a window or lock in order to enter what they think is their property is not an unknown problem in Britain. This case decides an important point of law regarding that scenario. Beverely Jaggard had a good relationship with Ron Heyfron and had his consent to treat his property as if it were her own. One evening after being out drinking she took a taxi to his house in South Ockendon, Essex, but the taxi dropped her outside another, similar looking house on the same street. Not realising in her drunken state, she broke windows to get in. Jaggard was prosecuted for criminal damage. But the court ruled that under section 5(3) of the Criminal Damage Act it was required to consider the accused’s actual belief when she committed the act. As she believed, even in her intoxicated state, that the accused would have consented to the damage, she was found not guilty.

R v Malcherek, R v Steel
March 18, 1981

This landmark decision on life and death concerned two cases considered together by the Court of Appeal. In both cases, the accused had inflicted serious injury on his victim for which hospital treatment was necessary. In each, the treatment involved the use of a life support machine. In each, the doctors, having satisfied themselves that the patient was, for practical purposes, dead and were only being kept alive mechanically, disconnected the life support machines. The defendants, convicted of murder, claimed that the hospital had caused the death by turning off the machines. But their appeals were dismissed. It was held that the medical treatment did not break the chain of causation.

Laskey, Jaggard and Brown v United Kingdom
February 20, 1997
This is a famous modern case in which the personal freedom of individuals with unusual tastes was set against society’s right to rule certain conduct as criminal. It addresses a debate at the core of law: when can something be condemned as illegal where the conduct is private and involves only consenting adults? It went all the way to the European Court of Human Rights. The applicants were a group of gay men who participated in sadomasochistic activities including beating and branding. Their activities involved causing injury to the genitals and other places using fish hooks, spiked gloves and wires heated with blow torches. All were of full age and consenting. No permanent injuries were caused. Nevertheless, they were prosecuted for causing bodily harm and wounding under the Offences Against the Person Act 1861. At their trial, the defence of mutual consent was rejected and they consequently pleaded guilty. On appeal, their convictions were upheld but the sentences were reduced to between three months and three years. A further appeal to the House of Lords was dismissed. They then appealed to the European Court of Human Rights claiming that their convictions were a violation of their human rights to a private life. The court said the issue was whether the interference with their rights was “necessary in a democratic society”. It ultimately ruled that the interference had been necessary and that the state was entitled to regulate the infliction of physical harm through the criminal law. It was up to the authorities to determine the “tolerable level of harm”.

Attorney-General’s Ref No. 3 of 1994 (1997)
July 25, 1997

This case decided the law in a situation where a man stabs a pregnant woman and inflicts a wound that eventually kills the baby she is carrying. It rules on the important issue of which forms of life are protected by the criminal law. On May 26, 1990, a man stabbed his girlfriend in the face, abdomen and back. At the time she was, to his knowledge, 22 to 24 weeks pregnant with his child. Seventeen days later the child was born — it survived for 120 days before dying from the effects of premature birth. The mother recovered and the assailant was convicted of wounding with intent to cause grievous bodily harm and sentenced to four years imprisonment. Although the man was charged with murder after the death of the child, the judge ruled that neither murder nor manslaughter was proved on the available evidence and directed the jury to acquit on the murder charge. The Attorney-General referred the matter to the Court of Appeal on points of law including whether the crimes of murder or manslaughter can be committed where unlawful injury is deliberately inflicted to a child in utero (in the womb). The House of Lords decided that it was enough to raise a prima facie case of murder if the defendant committed the act that caused the death of the victim (the foetus) or caused grievous bodily harm. So an assailant such as the one who escaped a homicide conviction in this case could now be convicted.

Gregory v Portsmouth City Council
February 2, 2000

The civil action for malicious prosecution is a useful defence for a citizen against oppressive behaviour by a prosecutor. It is available where a prosecution has been brought maliciously, without reasonable and probable cause and has been unsuccessful. It helps balance the relationship between the individual and the state. This case made an important decision about the limits of that civil action. Terence Gregory, a councillor, had allegedly misused his position for financial gain and had been subject to disciplinary proceedings by a city council. Those proceedings, however, were quashed by the Divisional Court following a judicial review. The councillor then sued the council for having ‘maliciously prosecuted’ him by taking disciplinary proceedings against him. But the House of Lords decided that an action for malicious prosecution will not be open to someone who has been merely the subject of disciplinary proceedings.

Chief Adjudication Officer v Faulds
May 16, 2000

This case concerned the important issue of when incidents can be properly described as accidents. It is a fine illustration of how what might seem like remote philosophical semantics are an important and unavoidable part of law and have a striking impact on real life. Thomas Faulds, a senior fire officer, was claiming industrial injury benefit as a consequence of post-traumatic stress disorder. Faulds, who had served for 27 years, argued that he was entitled to benefit within the provisions of section 94(1) of the Social Security Contributions and Benefits Act 1992, as he had suffered personal injury (stress) “by accident arising out of and in the course of his employment”. He had attended many appalling fatal accidents and had been required to photograph mutilated bodies. But the law lords rejected Faulds’ claim that he had suffered from an “accident” in the way meant by the legislation. He wasn’t present when accidents actually occurred and it was not, at least directly, the actual happening of a crash or a fire or a vehicle collision that caused him any injury. The mere fact of suffering stress or developing some illness or disorder from being engaged in a stressful occupation wouldn’t bring the sufferer within the purview of the Act for the purposes of injury benefit.

Regina (Quintavalle) v British Broadcasting Corporation
May 16, 2003
This landmark House of Lords decision dealt with the issue of when broadcasters can decline to show something they regard as unfit for the public. ProLife, a political party, was campaigning against abortion. It had fielded enough candidates in a general election to entitle it to one party election broadcast in Wales and submitted a tape of its proposed broadcast to various channels. The major part of the programme had been devoted to explaining the processes involved in different forms of abortion, with prolonged and graphic images. The pictures were judged to be very disturbing. The BBC did not broadcast the film. The party took legal action in an effort to have that decision declared improper. But the House of Lords decided that the BBC and other terrestrial broadcasters had been entitled to refuse to show it on the ground that it would be offensive to public feeling. Lord Nicholls said that television broadcasters had to ensure, so far as they could, that their programmes contained nothing likely to be offensive to viewers. That was a statutory obligation placed on the independent broadcasters by the Broadcasting Act 1990 and on the BBC by an agreement with the Secretary of State for National Heritage. It wasn’t for the courts to find that the broadcasters had acted unlawfully when they had done no more than give effect to the statutory and other obligations binding on them.

Regina (Williamson and Others) v Secretary of State for Education and Employment
February 25, 2005

This case hinged on the contentious issue of whether the law against corporal punishment in schools broke the alleged human right of some parents to delegate to teachers the power to hit children. The claimants were religious educationalists. They applied for judicial review against the Secretary of State for Education and Employment, asking for a declaration that the Education Act 1996 did not prevent a parent delegating to a teacher in an independent school the right to administer physical punishment. They wanted it stated that a teacher who gave physical punishment on the basis of an expressed delegation by a parent in writing did not act unlawfully or unprofessionally. The House of Lords disagreed with that interpretation. The law lords ruled that the statutory ban on corporal punishment was not incompatible with the human right to freedom of religion and the freedom of some people to manifest their religion in practice by caning children. Although the statutory ban on corporal punishment was capable of interfering with the rights of those who sincerely believed that they had a religious duty to discipline children by the use of mild corporal punishment, Parliament was entitled to take the view that the ban was necessary in a democratic society to protect children from the infliction of physical punishment in an institutional setting.

Regina (Laporte) v Chief Constable of Gloucestershire Constabulary
December 14, 2006
The circumstances in which the police are permitted to stop citizens and turn them away from where they want to go is an issue of crucial consequence in any society. Too little power and there might be disorder; too much power and you would have an oppressive police state. This case had to address that issue in the context of that key characteristic of democracy — the right to protest. Relying on their duty to prevent a breach of the peace, police intercepted coach passengers travelling from London to a protest demonstration in Gloucestershire and prevented them from continuing to the demonstration. Police had turned back three coaches of anti-war protesters, including Jane Laporte, from a journey to a protest against impending bombing raids on Iraq. The Lords decided that police acted unlawfully. Stopping them proceeding was unlawful because no such breach of the peace was about to occur. The Lords ruled, citing European jurisprudence, that freedom of expression and assembly are “an essential foundation of democratic society”, and that there was insufficient reason here for those rights to be curtailed.

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