DPP v Majewski [1977] AC 443

Key point

  • Where the defendant does not have the requisite mens rea due to being voluntarily intoxicated, he is not guilty if the crime is one of specific intent, but is guilty if the crime is of basic intent

Facts

  • D assaulted police officers while intoxicated
  • D was charged with assault occasioning actual bodily harm (s47 OAPA)

Held (House of Lords)

  • Conviction upheld – ‘a drunken intent is still intent’
  • Voluntary intoxication is a defence only to crimes of specific intent, it is no defence even if it did cause D to lack mens rea in crimes of basic intent

Lord Elwyn-Jones LC

  • ‘If a man of his own volition takes a substance which causes him to cast off the restraints of reason and conscience, no wrong is done to him by holding him answerable criminally for any injury he may do while in that condition. His course of conduct in reducing himself by drugs and drink to that condition in my view supplies the evidence of mens rea, of guilty mind certainly sufficient for crimes of basic intent. It is a reckless course of conduct and recklessness is enough to constitute the necessary mens rea in assault cases. … The drunkenness is itself an intrinsic, an integral part of the crime, the other part being the evidence of the unlawful use of force against the victim. Together they add up to criminal recklessness.’

Lord Simon

  • “The best description of “specific intent” in this sense that I know is contained in the judgment of Fauteux J in Reg v George (1960) 128 Can CC 289, 301 –’In considering the question of mens rea, a distinction is to be made between (i) intention as applied to acts considered in relation to their purposes and (ii) intention as applied to acts apart from their purposes. A general intent attending the commission of an act is, in some cases, the only intent required to constitute the crime while, in others, there must be, in addition to that general intent, a specific intent attending the purpose for the commission of the act.”

Commentary

  • Intoxication is thus not strictly speaking, a defence, but rather the opposite of a defence since it extends liability for a crimes of basic intent in situations where mens rea is not present due to intoxication: see A.P. Simester “Intoxication is Never a Defence”
  • The distinction between specific and basic intent crimes is a compromise position struck by the courts to allow intoxication to be considered in some cases where the crime is extremely serious but not in other cases where the crime is less serious
  • The House did not offer a unanimous basis for the distinction between crimes of specific and basic intent, but it was generally thought that specific intent meant intention while basic intent meant less culpable mens rea such as recklessness or negligence (and should more appropriately been basic mens rea) based on the Lord Chancellor’s leading judgment
  • Lord Diplock’s judgment in R v Caldwell lends support to this view although in obiter, stated that Majewski ‘is authority that self-induced intoxication is no defence to a crime in which recklessness is enough to constitute the necessary mens rea’
  • A contrary definition was offered in Heard, where specific intent was defined as ulterior intent that goes beyond the actus reus of the crime while basic intent referred to mens rea limited to the actus reus of the crime