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National Coal Board v Gamble 1959

National Coal Board v Gamble [1959] 1 QB 11, the court delved into the question of criminal liability for aiding and abetting an offence, emphasising that the accessory need not necessarily harbour the motive of encouraging the commission of the crime; oblique intent is sufficient.


A truck driver who, with the permission of an employee of the National Coal Board (the defendant), carried an excess load of coal, leading to a conviction for contravening the Motor Vehicles (Construction and Use) Regulations, 1955. The National Coal Board was subsequently tried and convicted as an accessory to the offence.


In challenging the conviction, the National Coal Board asserted that it had no motive to encourage the principal offence. The High Court, in rendering its decision, dismissed the appeal, deeming the question of motive irrelevant.


Justice Devlin, in his judgment, articulated that aiding and abetting necessitates both the intention to aid and the knowledge of the circumstances, along with a positive, voluntarily performed act of assistance. Drawing on the precedent set by R v Steane [1974], Justice Devlin highlighted that an intention to aid can be presumed when assistance to the criminal is a natural and probable consequence of providing essential materials.


Crucially, Justice Devlin emphasised that the purpose or motive of encouraging the crime is not a requisite element for aiding and abetting. Even an indifference to the outcome of the crime does not negate the act of abetting. Using the example of selling a gun for murder, he stated that one can still be an aider and abettor, even if indifferent to the victim's fate, as long as the act of assistance is deliberate and intended to facilitate the crime.


In summary, National Coal Board v Gamble underscores the principle that an accessory's intent to encourage the crime can be inferred from their actions, and the accessory need not possess a direct motive for promoting the offence.


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