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R v Gladstone Williams (1984) 78 Cr. App. R. 276

The appellant witnessed a man attack a youth. He rushed to the aid of the youth and hit the attacker. In fact the youth had just committed a mugging and the attacker had wrestled him to the ground to prevent him escaping. The appellant was convicted of ABH under s.47 of the Offences Against the Person Act 1861. He appealed contending that the trial judge gave a misdirection to the jury in requiring the mistake to be a reasonably held mistake.


The appeal was allowed and the appellant's conviction was quashed.

Lord Lane CJ:
"The reasonableness or unreasonableness of the defendant's belief is material to the question of whether the belief was held by the defendant at all. If the belief was in fact held, its unreasonableness, so far as guilt or innocence is concerned, is neither here nor there. It is irrelevant. Were it otherwise, the defendant would be convicted because he was negligent in failing to recognise that the victim was not consenting or that a crime was not being committed and so on. In other words the jury should be directed first of all that the prosecution have the burden or duty of proving the unlawfulness of the defendant's actions; secondly, if the defendant may have been labouring under a mistake as to the facts, he must be judged according to his mistaken view of the facts; thirdly, that is so whether the mistake was, on an objective view, a reasonable mistake or not.
In a case of self-defence, where self-defence or the prevention of crime is concerned, if the jury came to the conclusion that the defendant believed, or may have believed, that he was being attacked or that a crime was being committed, and that force was necessary to protect himself or to prevent the crime, then the prosecution have not proved their case. If however the defendant's alleged belief was mistaken and if the mistake was an unreasonable one, that may be a powerful reason for coming to the conclusion that the belief was not honestly held and should be rejected. Even if the jury come to the conclusion that the mistake was an unreasonable one, if the defendant may genuinely have been labouring under it, he is entitled to rely upon it."
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