Director of Public Prosecutions v Collins: HL 19 Jul 2006

The defendant had made a series of racist and abusive calls to the office of his local MP. The prosecutor appealed a refusal to convict under the 1984 (now the 2003) Act. The defendant had argued that the messages had been offensive, but not grossly so.
Held: The prosecutor’s appeal succeeded. ‘The purpose of the legislation which culminates in section 127(1)(a) was to prohibit the use of a service provided and funded by the public for the benefit of the public for the transmission of communications which contravene the basic standards of our society.’
and ‘the proscribed act, the actus reus of the offence, is the sending of a message of the proscribed character by the defined means. The offence is complete when the message is sent.’ and
‘Parliament cannot have intended to criminalise the conduct of a person using language which is, for reasons unknown to him, grossly offensive to those to whom it relates, or which may even be thought, however wrongly, to represent a polite or acceptable usage. On the other hand, a culpable state of mind will ordinarily be found where a message is couched in terms showing an intention to insult those to whom the message relates or giving rise to the inference that a risk of doing so must have been recognised by the sender. ‘
Lord Carswell: ‘it can make no difference to criminal liability whether a message is ever actually received or whether the persons who do receive it are offended by it. What matters is whether reasonable persons in our society would find it grossly offensive. ‘
Lord Brown: ‘for liability to arise under section 1(1), the sender of the grossly offensive message must intend it to cause distress or anxiety to its immediate or eventual recipient. Not so under section 127(1)(a): the very act of sending the message over the public communications network (ordinarily the public telephone system) constitutes the offence even if it was being communicated to someone who the sender knew would not be in any way offended or distressed by it. ‘


Lord Bingham of Cornhill, Lord Nicholls of Birkenhead, Baroness Hale of Richmond, Lord Carswell, Lord Brown of Eaton-under-Heywood


[2006] UKHL 40, Times 21-Jul-2006, (2007) CrimLR 98, [2006] 1 WLR 2223, (2007) 1 CrAppR 5, [2006] 4 All ER 602




Communications Act 2003 127(1)(a), Telecommunications Act 1984 43(1)


England and Wales


Appeal fromDirector of Public Prosecutions v Collins Admn 23-Jun-2005
The defendant had, over a period of time, telephoned his MP’s office using racially abusive epithets. He was originally charged under the 1984 Act, but then under the 2003 Act. The magistrates found the remarks offensive, but not so grossly . .
CitedSweet v Parsley HL 23-Jan-1969
Mens Rea essential element of statutory Offence
The appellant had been convicted under the Act 1965 of having been concerned in the management of premises used for smoking cannabis. This was a farmhouse which she visited infrequently. The prosecutor had conceded that she was unaware that the . .
CitedBrutus v Cozens HL 19-Jul-1972
The House was asked whether the conduct of the defendant at a tennis match at Wimbledon amounted to using ‘insulting words or behaviour’ whereby a breach of the peace was likely to be occasioned contrary to section 5. He went onto court 2, blew a . .
CitedNorwood v United Kingdom ECHR 16-Nov-2004
(inadmissible) . .

Cited by:

CitedChambers v Director of Public Prosecutions QBD 27-Jul-2012
The defendant appealed by case stated against his conviction under section 127 of the 2003 Act. Becoming frustrated with its inefficiency he issued a tweet, which was said to have been a threat: ‘Crap! Robin Hood Airport is closed. You’ve got a week . .
Lists of cited by and citing cases may be incomplete.


Updated: 07 July 2022; Ref: scu.243334