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   Case summaries      R v Altham

R v Altham [2006] 1 WLR 3287 Court of Appeal

The appellant had been in a serious car accident 14 years before he was charged. The accident left him with severe injuries to his hip and he experienced chronic pain ever since. He tried a number of forms of pain relief prescribed by his doctor which either proved ineffective or had intolerable side effects. He eventually found that cannabis was the most effective form of pain relief and used it on a regular basis. He was charged on a single count of possession of 5 grams of cannabis resin. He pleaded guilty as the judge had ruled that the defence of necessity could not be raised following the decision in R v Quayle & ors. He appealed against the judge’s ruling arguing that denial of the defence amounted to a breach of Art 3 of the European Convention of Human Rights in that his medical symptoms amounted to inhuman or degrading treatment and if the only way to avoid the symptoms is to break the criminal law and risk prison, then the state is subjecting him to inhuman or degrading treatment.


The appeal was dismissed and his conviction upheld.

Scott Baker LJ:

"In our judgment the state has done nothing to subject the appellant to either inhuman or degrading treatment and thereby engage the absolute prohibition in Article 3. …The defence of necessity on an individual basis as advocated by this appellant, as it was by the appellants in Quayle, is in conflict with the purpose and effect of the legislative scheme."
Back to lecture outline on the defence of necessity in criminal law