R v Barnes [2004] EWCA Crim 3246


Criminal law - Assault - Inflicting grievous bodily harm in the course of sport


The appellant was an amateur footballer. He was playing a football match, went in for a tackle and seriously injured his opponent’s leg. He was charged with inflicting grievous bodily harm under section 20 of the Offences Against the Person Act 1861.


When is it appropriate for criminal proceedings to be brought after an injury occurs in the course of sport, by one to another? The court found that as most sports have their own disciplinary procedures and rules, such conduct is usually dealt with appropriately within the sporting context. The court need only intervene when the conduct that has occurred is extreme or seriously grave and can be properly categorised as criminal. The conduct that occurs must reach the required threshold to be considered grievous bodily harm as per s 20 of the Act.


Participation in a sport such as football gives rise to implicit consent to a risk of injury and even grievous bodily harm. If an injury or act occurs that cannot reasonably be considered to be acceptable when playing sport, then there is no implicit consent and the conduct will not be covered by a defence. In the present circumstances, the judge held that the actions of the appellant could not reasonably be considered to have gone beyond what is acceptable in sport and did not require criminal intervene. Even if the conduct did constitute a foul within the game, resulting in Barnes being sent off. No malice or intent to injure could be found in the conduct, failing to meet the requirements of s 20. What is reasonably acceptable contact in sport depends on the circumstances of the case. Therefore, the appeal was allowed and the conviction quashed.