DPP v K (A Minor) – Case Summary

DPP v K (A Minor)

High Court

Citations: [1990] 1 WLR 1067; [1990] 1 All ER 331; (1990) 91 Cr App R 23; (1990) 154 JP 192; [1990] Crim LR 321.


The defendant was a 15-year-old boy who left his chemistry class with a tube of acid to go to the bathroom. While he was in the bathroom, he heard someone approaching and panicked, pouring the acid into a hand-dryer. He then left the bathroom and did not tell anyone what he had done. The defendant later claimed that he intended to go back and clean the acid up at a later time. However, before he could do this, another person used the hand-dryer and was sprayed with acid. The defendant was charged with assault occasioning actual bodily harm.

  1. What mens rea is required to convict someone of assault occasioning actual bodily harm?

The High Court held in favour of the prosecution. The defendant was reckless, and so had the necessary mens rea.

This Case is Authority For…

Recklessness suffices as the mens rea for assault occasioning actual bodily harm – there is no need for the defendant to intend to harm anyone.

When this case was decided, recklessness was an objective standard: if a reasonable person would have foreseen that someone might be hit by the acid, then the defendant was reckless. However, this approach has subsequently been overruled: R v¬†Cunningham¬†[1957] 2 QB 396. Now, a defendant must subjectively foresee the possibility to be considered ‘reckless’.


This case also demonstrates that there can be a battery even if the application of force is not completely direct and there is a delay between the defendant’s actions and force being applied to the victim. The victim in this case was not sprayed with acid until almost an hour after the defendant poured the acid in the dryer.