R v Hunt (Anthony Gerald)
Court of Appeal
Citations: (1978) 66 Cr App R 105.
The defendant was charged with criminal damage after he set fire to a bed in an isolated room in an old people’s home. He claimed that he did this to highlight that the fire alarm at the home was defective. At trial, he argued that he had a lawful excuse. S.5(2)(b) of the Criminal Damage Act 1971 states that a person has a lawful excuse where:
‘he destroyed or damaged or threatened to destroy or damage the property in question…in order to protect property belonging to himself or another or a right or interest in property which was or which he believed to be vested in himself or another, and at the time of the act or acts alleged to constitute the offence he believed— (i) that the property, right or interest was in immediate need of protection; and (ii) that the means of protection adopted or proposed to be adopted were or would be reasonable having regard to all the circumstances.’
S.5(3) states that the belief does not need to be justified, just honestly held. The trial judge held that he could not rely on lawful excuse, and the jury convicted him. The defendant appealed.
- Was the judge right to withdraw the issue of lawful excuse from the jury?
The Court of Appeal upheld the conviction. Applying an objective test, the defendant’s acts were not inherently capable of protecting any property. The fact that he was drawing attention to a defect was insufficient. s.5(3) does not change this.
This Case is Authority For…
When considering whether the defendant has a lawful excuse for criminal damage, whether he was acting to protect property belonging to another is assessed objectively. This means that the act has to be directly capable, in and of itself, of protecting property.
This is because s.5(2) states that the act must be ‘in order to protect property’. It does not say that the defendant must believe that the act would protect property. His honest and subjective belief is only relevant later, when considering whether the defendant believed that the property needed protecting and that he was using reasonable means to do so.