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R v Majewski [1977] AC 443

Voluntary intoxication no defence to offences of “basic intent” such as assault

Facts

The appellant (M) was convicted following a brawl in a pub in which he assaulted the landlord and customers and the police officers who arrested him. His defence was that he was under the influence of drink and drugs at the time. The judge directed the jury that this was an invalid defence. M appealed on the basis that the judge had misdirected the jury but his appeal was dismissed.

Issue

In the House of Lords, counsel for M argued, inter alia, that guilty intent was required to be proven by the prosecution and that any evidence of intoxication is relevant to rebut the inferences which can properly be drawn from the fact that the accused did the act alleged to amount to an assault. The Court was required to consider whether a defendant may be convicted of an assault in circumstances where, by virtue of self-induced intoxication, he did not intend commit the act alleged to constitute assault.

Held

Their Lordships drew a distinction between offences of “basic intent” and “specific intent” and held that in cases of the former, voluntary intoxication cannot form the basis for a defence even if the intoxication produces a state of automatism. This means that a voluntarily intoxicated defendant, such as M, can be convicted even where the prosecution has not proven intent. In reaching this conclusion, their Lordships emphasised the importance of the criminal law in protecting law-abiding citizens and the defendant’s guilt in cases such as this is supplied by the act of self-intoxication with reckless disregard for the possible consequences.

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