R v Barnes [2004] EWCA Crim 3246, [2005] Crim LR 381

Key point

  • Participants in contact sports are deemed to consent to a reasonable risk of harm


  • D was an amateur footballer who injured an opposing player when he went in for a tackle
  • D was convicted with inflicting grievous bodily harm under s. 20 OAPA

Held (Court of Appeal)

  • Appeal allowed – the judge’s summation to the jury was flawed as it failed to explain how to identify which acts are consented to in a sport

Lord Woolf CJ

  • Although consent is generally irrelevant when bodily harm is caused, there are public policy exceptions, which include injury in contact sports
  • If what occurs goes beyond what a player can ‘reasonably be regarded as having accepted’ by taking part in the sport, this indicates that the conduct will not be covered by the defence
  • On what can be reasonably regarded as accepted:
    • A play that is within the rules is accepted, but in highly competitive sports, conduct outside the rules can be expected to occur in the heat of the moment
    • It depends on all the circumstances, including the type of sport, the level at which it was played, the nature of the act, the degree of force used, the extent of the risk of injury and the defendant’s state of mind
    • In borderline cases the jury would need to ask themselves, among other questions, whether the contact was so obviously late and/or violent that it could not be regarded as an instinctive reaction, error or misjudgment in the heat of the game