Published: Wed, 07 Mar 2018
R v Rimmington  1 AC 469
Public Nuisance – Mens Rea – Definition of Offence of Public Nuisance
Rimmington, the defendant, sent 538 separate postal packages to individuals. These were of a crude, racist and obscene nature, and were intended to cause mental anguish to black people in retaliation for a racially-motivated assault he had previously suffered. After being arrested and charged with public nuisance, the defendant argued that the criminal offence of public nuisance was not defined precisely enough and was too uncertain to allow a prosecution under it to be in line with the European Convention on Human Rights or the Common law itself. This was dismissed by the trial judge and he was convicted. The Court of Appeal also dismissed this argument. The defendant appealed to the House of Lords.
Was the criminal offence of public nuisance consistent with the European Convention on Human Rights? Is the crime of public nuisance capable of precise definition and capable of being interpreted in a consistent manner?
The appeal was allowed. Public nuisance was capable of a consistent definition, which could be stated as being committed when an individual does an act not warranted by law, or omits to discharge a legal duty if the effect of the act or omission is to endanger the life, health, property, morals, or comfort of the public or to obstruct the public in the exercise or enjoyment of rights common to all Her Majesty’s subjects. However, the offence did require that the public, or some section of the public was intended to be affected by the act or omission and in this case, this had not happened. Instead, the defendant had intended only each particular individual to be affected at any one time, and it was not permissible to multiply these separate instances of harm and call them a public injury.
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