Warner v Metropolitan Police Commissioner: HL 1968

The appellant had been convicted of an offence contrary to section 1 of the 1964 Act, of having been found in possession of drugs.
Held: (Reid dissenting) The prosecution had only to prove that the accused knew of the existence of the thing and that it was in general not a defence for him to say that he believed the thing to be something else such as scent and not drugs.
Lord Reid said: ‘The rule is firmly established that we may not look at Hansard . . ‘
Lord Wilberforce said: ‘Ideally, a possessor of a thing has complete physical control over it, he has knowledge of its existence, its situation and its qualities: he has received it from a person who intends to confer possession of it and he has himself the intention to possess it exclusively of others. But these elements are seldom all present in situation with which the court have to deal, and where one or more of them is lacking, or incompletely present, it has to be decided whether the given approximation is such that possession may be held sufficiently established to satisfy the relevant rule of law. As it is put by Pollock and Wright, possession: is defined by modes of events in which it commences or ceases and by legal incidents attached to it’.
Lord Guest defined the possession by citing the Dictionary of English Law and stated that: ‘Possession, the visible possibility of exercising physical control over a thing, coupled with the intention of doing so, either against all the world, or against all the world exception of doing so, either against all the world, or against all the world except certain persons. There are therefore, three requisites of possession. First, there must be actual or potential physical control, secondly physical control is not possession, unless accompanied by intention, hence, if a thing is put into a hand of a sleeping person, he had not possession of it. Thirdly, the possibility and intention must be visible or evidenced by external signs, for if the thing shows no signs of being under the control of anyone, it is not possessed’.
Lord Pearce said: ‘I think that the term ‘possession’ is satisfied by a knowledge only of the existence of the thing itself and not its qualities and that ignorance or mistake as to its qualities is not an excuse. This would comply with the general understanding of the word ‘possess.” and ‘By physical possession or control I include things in his pocket, in his car, in his room and so forth. That seems to me to accord with the general popular wide meaning of the word ‘possession’ and to be in accordance with the intention of the [Firearms] Act.’

Lord Pearce, Lord Reid, Lord Wilberforce, Lord Guest
[1969] 2 AC 256, [1968] 2 All ER 356, (1968) 52 Cr App R 373, [1968] 2 WLR 1303
Drugs (Prevention of Misuse) Act 1964 1
England and Wales
CitedTowers and Co Ltd v Gray 1961
The term ‘possession’ has been the source of constant difficulty of interpretation, and must be construed in the particular context. . .
CitedBrend v Wood 1946
The court discussed the need to assume that conviction for an offence required proof of mens rea.
Lord Goddard CJ said: ‘It should first be observed that at common law there must always be mens rea to constitute a crime; if a person can show . .

Cited by:
CitedRegina v Lambert HL 5-Jul-2001
Restraint on Interference with Burden of Proof
The defendant had been convicted for possessing drugs found on him in a bag when he was arrested. He denied knowing of them. He was convicted having failed to prove, on a balance of probabilities, that he had not known of the drugs. The case was . .
CitedB (A Minor) v Director of Public Prosecutions HL 23-Feb-2000
Prosecution to prove absence of genuine belief
To convict a defendant under the 1960 Act, the prosecution had the burden of proving the absence of a genuine belief in the defendant’s mind that the victim was 14 or over. The Act itself said nothing about any mental element, so the assumption must . .
CitedSheldrake v Director of Public Prosecutions; Attorney General’s Reference No 4 of 2002 HL 14-Oct-2004
Appeals were brought complaining as to the apparent reversal of the burden of proof in road traffic cases and in cases under the Terrorism Acts. Was a legal or an evidential burden placed on a defendant?
Held: Lord Bingham of Cornhill said: . .
CitedRegina v K HL 25-Jul-2001
In a prosecution for an offence of indecent assault on a girl under 16 under the section, it was necessary for the prosecution to prove the absence of a positive belief in the defendant’s mind that the victim was 16 or over. The legislation history . .
CitedRegina v Bett CACD 12-Oct-1998
A conviction under section 8(b) for permitting premises to be used for the supply of controlled drugs was correct without evidence of knowledge of the particular drug supplied even though particular drugs were named in the indictments. The section . .
CitedPorter, Regina v CACD 16-Mar-2006
The defendant appealed his conviction of possession of indecent photographs or pseudo-photographs of children. The images had been deleted, and were irrecoverable, but they had originally been viewed through a program which created a smaller . .
CitedRegina v Morgan HL 30-Apr-1975
The defendants appealed against their convictions for rape, denying mens rea and asserting a belief (even if mistaken) that the victim had consented.
Held: For a defence of mistake to succeed, the mistake must have been honestly made and need . .
CitedJenkins v Director of Public Prosecutions and Another Admn 22-May-2020
Short term possession of stun gun
The appellant challenged the decision of the justices finding him guilty on summary conviction of an offence of possession of a weapon designed or adapted for the discharge of electrical current for incapacitation contrary to s. 5(1)(b) and Schedule . .
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 . .

Lists of cited by and citing cases may be incomplete.


Leading Case

Updated: 09 November 2021; Ref: scu.194989