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MPC v Caldwell [1982] AC 341 House of Lords

The appellant had been working at a hotel and had a grudge against his employer. One night after consuming a large quantity of alcohol he went to the hotel and started a fire. The hotel had 10 guests sleeping in the hotel at the time. Fortunately the fire was discovered and distinguished early and no people were actually harmed. The appellant was convicted of aggravated criminal damage under s.1(2) Criminal Damage Act 1971 and appealed in relation to the required level of recklessness. The defendant argued that he had given no thought as to the possible endangerment of life due to his intoxicated state.

House of Lords upheld his conviction and formulated what has become known as Caldwell recklessness:

A person is reckless as to whether property is destroyed or damaged where:
(1) he does an act which in fact creates an obvious risk that property will be destroyed or damaged and
(2) when he does the act he either has not given any thought to the possibility of there being any such risk or has recognised that there was some risk involved and has nonetheless gone on to do it.

NB this test of recklessness no longer applies see R v G & R [2003] 3 WLR
On the issue of intoxication:

Lord Diplock:

"The speech of Lord Elwyn-Jones LC in Reg v Majewski….. is authority that self-induced intoxication is no defence to a crime in which recklessness is enough to constitute the necessary mens rea……….Reducing oneself by drink or drugs to a condition in which the restraints of reason and conscience are cast off was held to be a reckless course of conduct and an integral part of the crime."

Lord Edmund-Davies and Lord Wilberforce disagreed. Their view was that arson being reckless as to the endangering of life is an offence of specific, not of basic, intent; because the state of mind went to an ulterior or purposive element of the offence, rather than to the basic element of causing damage by fire.
Back to lecture outline on the law of recklessness
Back to lecture outline on intoxication in criminal law
Back to lecture outline on criminal damage