R v Colohan (Sean Peter)
Court of Appeal
Citations:  EWCA Crim 1251.
The defendant was a schizophrenic. He was convicted of harassment contrary to the Protection from Harassment Act 1977 after he sent rambling, incoherent and threatening letters to a Member of Parliament. The defendant appealed his conviction on the grounds that it was not fair to hold that he knew or ought to know that his conduct amounted to harassment (the mens rea of the offence) given his mental illness.
- Is the objective mens rea for harassment altered where the defendant is less able to foresee the consequences of his conduct due to mental illness?
The Court of Appeal upheld the conviction. The objective mens rea standard should not be lessened to take into account the defendant’s mental illness.
This Case is Authority For…
When assessing whether the defendant ought to have known that his conduct amounted to harassment, the court will take the perspective of a reasonable person. If a reasonable person would have realised the conduct was harassment, the test is met. The reasonable person is not endowed with any special characteristics the defendant possesses. This includes mental illnesses.
Part of the justification for this harsh approach was the court’s perception that many people who commit harassment do so because they are mentally ill: to allow this to exonerate them would be to ‘remove from [the Act’s] protection a very large number of victims and indeed to run the risk of significantly thwarting the purpose of the Act.’