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Where the defendant has voluntarily put themselves in the position of being intoxicated to the
extent that they are not capable of forming the mental element of the crime the law is less
forgiving. The law draws a distinction between crimes of basic intent and crimes of specific
intent. This distinction was drawn in DPP v Beard and affirmed in DPP v Majewski.1

DPP V BEARD2 a landmark judgement:

The appellant whilst intoxicated raped a 13 year old girl and put his hand over her mouth to
stop her from screaming. She died of suffocation.
Under the law of England as it prevailed until early in the 19th century voluntary
drunkenness was never an excuse for criminal misconduct; and indeed the classic authorities
broadly assert that voluntary drunkenness must be considered rather an aggravation than a
defence. Where a specific intent is an essential element in the offence, evidence of a state of
drunkenness rendering the accused incapable of forming such intent should be taken into
consideration in order to determine whether he had in fact formed the intent necessary to
constitute the particular crime. If he was so drunk that he was incapable of forming the intent
required he could not be convicted of a crime which was committed only if the intent was
proved. In a charge of murder based upon intention to kill or to do grievous bodily harm, if
the jury are satisfied that the accused was, by reason of his drunken condition, incapable of
forming the intent to kill or to do grievous bodily harm, he cannot be convicted of murder.
But nevertheless unlawful homicide has been committed by the accused, and consequently he
is guilty of unlawful homicide without malice aforethought, and that is manslaughter".
And this was affirmed in DPP V MAJEWSKI3. The use of the terms basic intent and specific
intent has caused confusion; not only because there has been conflicting dicta but also as to
the meaning of these terms. This can be seen particularly in the case of: MPC V
CALDWELL [1982] AC 3414.

[1920] AC 479 House of Lords
[1977] AC 443
Facts of the case: The appellant had been working in 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 and
fortunately there was no harm caused to any of them. He was convicted of aggravated criminal damage and
appealed in relation to the required level of recklessness. But the defendant argued that he was drunk and did not
expect such huge damage. House of Lords upheld his conviction. Now on the issue of intoxication, Lord
No explanation of the terms is entirely satisfactory and do not accurately cover the offences
which have been categorised as either basic intent crimes or specific intent crimes. This was
most noticeable in: R v Heard [2007] 3 WLR 4755. The confusion surrounding these terms
has attracted criticism from the Law Commission who have recommended the terms should
be discarded and replaced with an integral fault element.

Crimes of specific intent

Crimes of specific intent have sometimes been stated to include crimes where the offence can
only be committed intentionally i.e. where recklessness will not suffice for example, murder,
s.18 wounding and GBH. Another definition often used is where the offence requires an
ulterior intent i.e. one which requires proof of an intent which goes beyond the prohibited act
for example, criminal damage with intent to endanger life. This definition was preferred
in Heard and was the dissenting opinion by Lord Edmund Davies and Lord Wilberforce
in Caldwell. However, the difficulty with this definition is that it does not cover murder
which has been categorised as a crime of specific intent.
Crimes which have been categorised as being 'specific intent' crimes include:

MURDER: A few landmark cases which come under murder,

R v Lipman6
R v O'Connor7

GREVIOUS BODILY HARM: A few cases which come under GBH,

R v Brown and Stratton8

The approach taken in crimes of specific intent:

Where a crime is categorised as being one of specific intent, the defendant is allowed to rely
on their intoxication to demonstrate that they lacked the mens rea of the offence. This is
subject to the caveat that a drunken intent is nevertheless intent:

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." But 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.
R v Heard [2007] 3 WLR 475
[1970] 1 QB 152
[1991] Crim LR 135
[1997] EWCA Crim 2255
R v Sheehan and Moore9

R v O'Hare10

See also Dutch courage below

Crimes of basic intent

Crimes which have been categorised as crimes of basic intent include:

Assault, battery, and s.20 GBH

DPP v Majewski [1977] AC 443

Sexual assault
R v Heard [2007] 3 WLR 475

R v Woods (1982) 74 Cr App R 312

Taking a conveyance without consent

R v MacPherson [1973] RTR 157

Allowing a dangerous dog to be unmuzzled in public

DPP v Kellet (1994) 158 JP 1138

The approach taken in crimes of basic intent

Where a defendant's intoxication is voluntary and the crime is one of basic intent, the
defendant is not permitted to rely on their intoxicated state to indicate that they lack the mens
rea of the crime.

(1975) 60 Cr App R 308
[1999] EWCA Crim 771