R v Roberts

English Criminal Law

R v Roberts
Image: ‘Escape’ by Anna Dart

In a case involving assault occasioning actual bodily harm, the defendant appealed on grounds that an irrational act on the part of the alleged victim was sufficient enough to constitute ‘novus actus interveniens’, thereby breaking the chain of causation and defeating the charges held against them.

In spring of 1971, the victim was an engaged twenty-something who having spent some time together at a party, had decided to join the appellant in car journey in the early hours of the morning. It was during the journey that the appellant had misled the victim as to where they were headed, after which he attempted to have sex with her, despite her immediate protestations.

Having then asked to be taken home, the appellant threatened to force her to walk back if she failed to comply with his demands, but not before he had physically assaulted her. It was at this point that he attempted to remove her coat whilst driving at speed, thereby forcing her to open the passenger door and jump out, thus suffering from mild concussion and numerous contusions as a result of her escape.

Having wandered to the nearest house, she was taken in and then safely escorted to hospital for treatment and a three-day stay with lengthy cross-examination. At trial, the judge explained to the jury that in order to find the appellant guilty, they needed to be certain that it was his actions alone that had led to the victim’s injuries, and that his efforts to disrobe her against her will were tantamount to an assault.

Using the exact words:

“[I]f you accept the evidence of the girl in preference to that of the man, that means that there was an assault occasioning actual bodily harm, that means that she did jump out as a direct result of what he was threatening her with, and what he was doing to her, holding her coat, telling her he had beaten up girls who had refused his advances, and that means that through his acts he was in law and in fact responsible for the injuries which were caused to her by her decision, if it can be called that, to get away from his violence, his threats, by jumping out of the car.”

The jury were directed as to ensure they were satisfied that the two acts were inextricably linked, and that unless they could, beyond any reasonable doubt, identify and connect them, the appellant was to escape the charge held under s.47 of the Offences Against the Person Act 1861. It was then found by the jury that despite reservations as to the weight of both parties arguments, the actions of the appellant were directly contributive to the illogical action of the victim and so the charge was upheld.

Upon appeal, the argument presented was that the judge had failed to factor the foreseeability by the appellant of the victim’s actions at the time the offence took place, and that when testing for assault, this aspect of the jury direction was absent. In response, the Court held that as was explained in R v Beech, the judge had rightly asked:

“Will you say whether the conduct of the prisoner amounted to a threat of causing injury to this young woman, was the act of jumping the natural consequence of the conduct of the prisoner, and was the grievous bodily harm the result of the conduct of the prisoner?”

And that at no point in English law had a prerequisite for the defendant’s mindset existed, as to allow such an obligation would immediately nullify any conviction held against them. It was then for this salient reason that the Court dismissed the appeal and secured the original conviction.

Parker v British Airways Board

English Property Law

Parker v British Airways Board
Image: ‘Concorde’ by Ivan Berryman

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Under the breadth of property ownership, does the principle of occupier’s rights supersede the entitlement of an authentic finder, or is the common law more complex than first appears?

While waiting to catch a flight, a qualified guest of an airport lounge discovered an abandoned men’s gold bracelet on the seating area floor. By virtue of his own honesty, the respondent handed the jewellery to a member of staff, on the proviso that should the original owner not be found, the airline was to forward the item to his home address as  was provided.

After waiting almost a year, the appellants instead took it upon themselves to sell the bracelet, while directly profiting from the sale. Upon discovery, the respondent immediately sued for loss incurred from the deceit and conversion of assets. In the first hearing, the judge awarded in favour of the passenger, whereupon the airline appealed and the matter was given greater thought.

When assessing the imputation that occupiers of land are privy to greater powers of ownership to lost property, the distinctions were drawn in order to clarify where the exceptions to those assumptions lay. In common law, it has been largely agreed through the progression of case law, that in many familiar circumstances, the rights to ownership of property construed as abandoned or lost, would fall to the landowner. However, in this case the airline took no steps to draw notice to that right when considering the frequency and nature of transient visitors to their lounge. In contrast, the only provisions made for matters involving lost property entailed procedural guides for staff members and no more.

After careful evaluation of the two prevailing rights, and when comparing to the honest intentions of the passenger to an abject failure of the airline to express their position when handling lost property, the Appeal Court held that it would be unreasonable to deny the respondent his fundamental rights to ownership of property honestly acquired in the absence of the original owner.