Attorney-General’s Reference (No 2 of 1983): CACD 3 Feb 1984

The defendant, a shop-keeper, found his shop to be in the middle of serious rioting. His shop had been damaged badly and he suffered looting. Fearing further attacks he stayed in his shop, making 10 petrol bombs for protection.
Held: A defendant might set up the statutory defence of showing that he possessed an explosive substance ‘for a lawful purpose’ if he could establish on the balance of probabilities that his purpose was to protect himself or his family or property by way of self-defence against an imminent and apprehended attack by means which he believed to be no more than reasonably necessary to meet the attack.
Lord Lane CJ said: ‘The defendant in this case said that his intentions were to use the petrol bombs purely to protect his premises should any rioters come to his shop. It was accordingly open to the jury to find that the defendant had made them for the reasonable protection of himself and his property against this danger. The fact that in manufacturing and storing the petrol bombs the defendant committed offences under the Act of 1875 did not necessarily involve that when he made them his object in doing so was not lawful. The means by which he sought to fulfil that object were unlawful, but the fact that he could never without committing offences reach the point where he used them in self-defence did not render his object in making them for that purpose unlawful. The object or purpose or end for which the petrol bombs were made was not itself rendered unlawful by the fact that it could not be fulfilled except by unlawful means. The fact that the commission of other offences was unavoidable did not result in any of them becoming one of the defendant’s objects.
In our judgment a defendant is not left in the paradoxical position of being able to justify acts carried out in self-defence but not acts immediately preparatory to it. There is no warrant for the submission on behalf of the Attorney General that acts of self-defence will only avail a defendant when they have been done spontaneously. There is no question of a person in danger of attack ‘writing his own immunity’ for violent future acts of his. He is not confined for his remedy to calling in the police or boarding up his premises. He may still arm himself for his own protection, if the exigency arises, although in so doing he may commit other offences. That he may be guilty of other offences will avoid the risk of anarchy contemplated by the reference. It is also to be noted that although a person may ‘make’ a petrol bomb with a lawful object, nevertheless if he remains in possession of it after the threat has passed which made his object lawful, it may cease to be so. It will only be very rarely that circumstances will exist where the manufacture or possession of petrol bombs can be for a lawful object.’


Lord Lane CJ


[1984] 1 All ER 988, [1984] EWCA Crim 1, [1984] QB 456




Explosive Substances Act 1883 4


England and Wales

Cited by:

CitedDirector of Public Prosecutions v Bayer, Hart, Snook, and Whistance Admn 4-Nov-2003
The defendants protested the growing of genetically modified crops. The prosecutor appealed dismissal of charges of aggravated trespass for them having entered a crop and attached themselves to tractors. The district judge decided they had genuine . .
CitedCopeland, Regina v SC 11-Mar-2020
The Court was asked whether under the 1883 Act: for the purposes of section 4(1) can personal experimentation or own private education, absent some ulterior unlawful purpose, be regarded as a lawful object? The defendant, a young man on the autistic . .
Lists of cited by and citing cases may be incomplete.


Updated: 06 August 2022; Ref: scu.187498