Regina v Hunt: CACD 1978

The defendant had been charged with setting fire to a guest room in an old people’s home. He claimed that he had done so to draw attention to a defective fire alarm system. He sought to set up a statutory defence under section 5(2) by claiming to have had a lawful excuse in doing what he did. The judge withdrew that defence. He appealed.
Held: The appeal failed. Roskill LJ said: ‘I have said that we will assume in his favour that he possessed the requisite honest belief. But in our view the question whether he was entitled to the benefit of the defence turned upon the meaning of the words ‘in order to protect property belonging to another’. It was argued that those words were subjective in concept, just like the words in the latter part of section 5(2)(b) which are subjective. We do not think that is right. The question whether or not a particular act of destruction or damage or threat of destruction or damage was done or made in order to protect property belonging to another must be, on a true construction of the statute, an objective test. Therefore we have to ask ourselves whether, whatever the state of this man’s mind and assuming an honest belief, that which he admittedly did was done in order to protect this particular property, namely the old people’s home in Hertfordshire? If one formulates the question in that way, in the view of each member of this court, for the reasons Slynn J gave during argument, it admits of only one answer: this was not done in order to protect property; it was done in order to draw attention to the defective state of the fire alarm. It was not an act which in itself did protect or was capable of protecting property.’


Roskill LJ


(1978) 66 Cr App R 105


Criminal Damage Act 1971 1(1)


England and Wales

Cited by:

CitedKelleher, Regina v CACD 20-Nov-2003
The defendant, out of strong conviction, entered an art gallery and knocked the head from a statue of Margaret Thatcher.
Held: The court examined the breadth of the defence of ‘lawful excuse’ to a charge of criminal damage, and whether a court . .
ApprovedRegina v Hill and Hall CACD 1989
The defendants were separately tried for possession of an article with intent to damage property contrary to section 3. In each case the article in question was a hacksaw blade and it was the prosecution case that each of the applicants intended to . .
CitedChamberlain v Lindon Admn 18-Mar-1998
The appellant challenged the dismissal of his private prosecution of the defendant in destroying a new garden wall. The magistrates had found a lawful excuse in that the defendant said that the wall had been constructed to obstruct his private right . .
Lists of cited by and citing cases may be incomplete.


Updated: 06 May 2022; Ref: scu.222705