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11. Dpp V Camplin April 11, 1978

This was a leading and groundbreaking decision about the law of provocation. Before this case, defendants on charges of murder could plead provocation only by showing they had the power of self-restraint of an adult, even if they were younger. Paul Camplin, a 15 year-old, hit a 50 year-old man over the head with a chapatti pan and killed him. His defence was provocation. He claimed that the deceased had forcibly had anal intercourse with him and then laughed at him, whereupon Camplin had lost his self-control. The judge at Leeds crown court directed the jury to consider whether the deceased’s actions were enough to make a “reasonable man” do what Camplin did. If they were, the killing could be reduced from murder to manslaughter. The judge told the jury to consider not how a reasonable 15-year-old may have responded, but how an adult man would have responded. That was unfair because an adult man might be expected to show more restraint before using lethal force. The jury convicted Camplin of murder. However, on appeal the House of Lords held that the judge ought not to have instructed the jury to disregard his age.

12. Jaggard V Dickinson July 26, 1980

People rolling up drunk at the wrong address and breaking a window or lock in order to enter what they think is their property is not an unknown problem in Britain. This case decides an important point of law regarding that scenario. Beverely Jaggard had a good relationship with Ron Heyfron and had his consent to treat his property as if it were her own. One evening after being out drinking she took a taxi to his house in South Ockendon, Essex, but the taxi dropped her outside another, similar looking house on the same street. Not realising in her drunken state, she broke windows to get in. Jaggard was prosecuted for criminal damage. But the court ruled that under section 5(3) of the Criminal Damage Act it was required to consider the accused’s actual belief when she committed the act. As she believed, even in her intoxicated state, that the accused would have consented to the damage, she was found not guilty.

13. R V Malcherek, r V Steel March 18, 1981

This landmark decision on life and death concerned two cases considered together by the Court of Appeal. In both cases, the accused had inflicted serious injury on his victim for which hospital treatment was necessary. In each, the treatment involved the use of a life support machine. In each, the doctors, having satisfied themselves that the patient was, for practical purposes, dead and were only being kept alive mechanically, disconnected the life support machines. The defendants, convicted of murder, claimed that the hospital had caused the death by turning off the machines. But their appeals were dismissed. It was held that the medical treatment did not break the chain of causation.

14. Laskey, Jaggard and Brown V United Kingdom February 20, 1997

This is a famous modern case in which the personal freedom of individuals with unusual tastes was set against society’s right to rule certain conduct as criminal. It addresses a debate at the core of law: when can something be condemned as illegal where the conduct is private and involves only consenting adults? It went all the way to the European Court of Human Rights. The applicants were a group of gay men who participated in sadomasochistic activities including beating and branding. Their activities involved causing injury to the genitals and other places using fish hooks, spiked gloves and wires heated with blow torches. All were of full age and consenting. No permanent injuries were caused. Nevertheless, they were prosecuted for causing bodily harm and wounding under the Offences Against the Person Act 1861. At their trial, the defence of mutual consent was rejected and they consequently pleaded guilty. On appeal, their convictions were upheld but the sentences were reduced to between three months and three years. A further appeal to the House of Lords was dismissed. They then appealed to the European Court of Human Rights claiming that their convictions were a violation of their human rights to a private life. The court said the issue was whether the interference with their rights was “necessary in a democratic society”. It ultimately ruled that the interference had been necessary and that the state was entitled to regulate the infliction of physical harm through the criminal law. It was up to the authorities to determine the “tolerable level of harm”.

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