R v Shivpuri [1987] AC 1, [1986] Crim. L.R. 536

Key point

  • Overruled Anderton v Ryan – a mistaken belief by the defendant that he was committing an illegal act that was in fact innocent can render him liable for attempt even if the act was not in fact illegal


  • D was arrested by customs officials while in possession of suitcase
  • He thought it was filled with drugs but it was not
  • D was convicted for attempt

Held (House of Lords)

  • Appeal dismissed, overruling Anderton v Ryan

Lord Bridge

  • His Lordship admitted that the majority was wrong in Anderton v Ryan – much of their concern on ensuring that unusual cases should not amount to attempt, such as a man who has intercourse with a girl over 16 believing her to be under that age, was misguided since the Law Commission in its 1980 report held that such cases are indeed guilty attempts but are not of concern since they are unlikely to be ever prosecuted
  • A sensible distinction cannot be drawn between acts of “objective innocence” and those which are not cannot be drawn since ‘any attempt to commit an offence which involves “an act which is more than merely preparatory to the commission of the offence” but for any reason fails, so that in the event no offence is committed, must ex hypothesi, from the point of view of the criminal law, be “objectively innocent.”’
  • “What turns what would otherwise, from the point of view of the criminal law, be an innocent act into a crime is the intent of the actor to commit the offence.”


  • Lord Bridge stated that the House of Lords in Anderton v Ryan had been misled by the prosecution on the opinion of the Law Commission in its 1980 report
Inchoate Liability Cases
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