Crime CLXXXI-Criminal Damage XXI

The decision in R v Steer (1987) must be compared with the decision in R v Sangha (1988) and if it is not possible to reconcile the decisions in both cases than we have to look into the possibility of distinguishing both cases on the facts.

In R v Sangha (1988) the defendant set fire to a mattress in a flat that was normally occupied by squatters. The only other furniture in the flat were a couple of armchairs and the flat was constructed in such a way that it would prevent fire from spreading or would contain the fire. The defendant was arrested and tried, and his counsel argued that the defendant was not liable under s.1 (2) of the Criminal Damage Act 1971 i.e. criminal damage endangering life because the possibility of that happening was minimal or there was no endangerment to life. The defendant was convicted anyway, and the defense appealed.

The conviction was upheld, on appeal, and the judges reverted to the Caldwell test as it was applied in Elliott v C (1983) and decided that the test is not whether life was endangered or otherwise but was whether a “reasonably prudent person” would have acted in the way the defendant did. Once again, we have to look at the decision in light of public policy.

Copyright © 2018 by Dyarne Ward

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