R v Caldwell [1982] AC 341

Key point

  • This case laid down an objective test for recklessness where the defendant’s characteristics, including his mental state, is not to be taken into account
  • The objective test was later rejected in R v G and R [2003] UKHL 50


  • D drunkenly set fire to a hotel
  • D pled guilty to s. 1(1) Criminal Damage Act 1971 for reckless arson
  • However, D contested his charge under s. 1(2) of the Act for reckless endangerment on the basis that he was so drunk that the risk of others being in the hotel did not cross his mind

Held (House of Lords)

  • The House held by a majority of 3-2 that D was guilty under s. 1(2) 1971 Act

Lord Diplock

Meaning of Recklessness

  • Recklessness includes both:
    1. ‘deciding to ignore a risk of harmful consequences resulting from one’s acts that one has recognised as existing’, and
    2. failing to give any thought to whether or not there is any such risk in circumstances where, if any thought were given to the matter, it would be obvious that there was.’
  • The accused would not be considered reckless if
    1. ‘there were nothing in the circumstances that ought to have drawn the attention of an ordinary prudent individual to the possibility of that kind of harmful consequence’, or
    2. ‘the risk of the harmful consequences was so slight that the ordinary prudent individual upon due consideration of the risk would not be deterred from treating it as negligible’

Intoxication is no defence

  • Pursuant to DPP v Majewski [1977] AC 443 ‘self-induced intoxication is no defence to a crime in which recklessness is enough to constitute the necessary mens rea’
  • ‘So, in the instant case, the fact that the respondent was unaware of the risk of endangering the lives of residents in the hotel owing to his self-induced intoxication, would be no defence if that risk would have been obvious to him had he been sober.’

Specific vs Basic Intent

  • ‘classification into offences of “specific” and “basic” intent is irrelevant where being reckless as to whether a particular harmful consequence will result from one’s act is a sufficient alternative mens rea


  • Prior to Caldwell, a subjective test for recklessness was laid down in R v Cunningham [1957] 2 QB 396, but an exception was made for self-induced intoxication, which was held to be no defence to a crime of recklessness
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