R v Martin (1881) 8 QBD 54

Whether indirect, reckless force can be considered ‘inflicted harm’ for a finding of bodily harm.


The defendant decided to play a practice joke on theatre goers by barring the exits to a playhouse, cutting the lights on the exits, and proclaiming that there was a fire to the audience, so as to cause panic. Resultantly, the audience rushed to exit the playhouse, during which several audience members sustained severe injuries from trampling, inter alia.


Could the defendant be found guilty of causing grievous bodily harm under s. 20 of the Offences

Against the Person Act 1861 where he had not himself inflicted the harm nor necessarily directly

intended that any persons would be injured.


The Court found the defendant guilty of GBH under s. 20, with Lord Coleridge asserting:

‘The prisoner must be taken to have intended the natural consequences of that which he did. He acted ‘unlawfully and maliciously’, not that he had any personal malice against the particular individuals injured, but in the sense of doing an unlawful act calculated to injure’ ([58])

Moreover, a charge of ABH does not necessarily require that the accused has personally committed an assault; rather it suffices that they committed an illegal act and it be reasonably foreseeable that this act may cause harm. In interpreting the word ‘inflict’, it should not be considered necessary that the defendant had directly or indirectly applied physical force per se in causing the harm, merely that their actions were the identifiable cause of the injuries suffered by the victims.

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