Your Cart

R v Brown [1994]

R v Brown [1993] UKHL 19, [1994] 1 AC 212 is a landmark case in English criminal law decided by the House of Lords. It is often referred to as the Spanner case due to the nature of the activities involved. This case established the principle that consent is not a valid defence to the deliberate infliction of grievous bodily harm.

The case involved a group of gay men who engaged in sadomasochistic activities, including acts involving consensual violence and harm. The men participated in these activities willingly and without any evidence of coercion. The police, however, discovered photographs and videos of these activities and subsequently charged them with the various offences under the Offences against the Person Act 1861, including inflicting grievous bodily harm under Section 20 and assault occasioning actual bodily harm under Section 47. The central issue was whether the participants' consent to the infliction of harm could serve as a defence to criminal charges of assault and other offences.

The House of Lords ruled against the defendants. Lord Templeman, in his leading judgment, stated that consent could not be a defence in cases involving acts that were unpredictably dangerous and degrading to body and mind and were developed with increasing barbarity and taught to persons whose consents were dubious or worthless. The rationale was based on public policy considerations, as society is entitled and bound to protect itself against a cult of violence. The Court held that society's interest in preventing serious harm outweighed individual autonomy and the principle of consent in such cases.

R v Brown is significant for several reasons. First, it limited the principle of individual autonomy in consenting to activities that might result in harm to oneself. The ruling essentially said that some activities could not be legally consented to, even if all parties involved were willing participants. Second, it set a legal precedent for cases involving consent in the context of harm, particularly in the realm of sexual practices and BDSM (bondage, discipline, sadism, and masochism). The decision received criticism from various quarters, including legal scholars, human rights advocates, and those concerned with sexual freedom and individual privacy. Critics argued that it intruded into private matters between consenting adults.

In summary, the case remains a notable case in English law due to its impact on the legal treatment of consensual acts that may involve harm. It illustrates the tension between individual autonomy and societal interests in regulating certain behaviours, particularly in the context of private and consensual activities.

You can learn more about this topic with our Criminal Law notes.

Subscribe to UOL Case Bank for more exclusive content and case summaries.

Trusted by thousands of law students worldwide

Where are our students from?

Yale University

Council of Europe

Baker Mckenzie 

University of Chicago

Columbia University

New York University

University of Michigan 


University College London (UCL)

London School of Economics (LSE)

King’s College London (KCL)

University of London

University of Manchester

University of Zurich

University of York

Brandeis University

University of Exeter

University of Sheffield

Boston University

University of Washington

University of Leeds

University of Law

Royal Holloway, University of London 

Birkbeck, University of London

SOAS, University of London

University of Kent

University of Hull

Queen’s University Belfast

Toronto Metropolitan University

Hong Kong University of Science and Technology

Your perfect companion for open-book and closed-book exams

Diagrams and Charts

Our carefully designed diagrams and charts will guide you through complex legal issues.

Clear and Succinct Definitions

Key concepts are concisely defined to help you understand legal topics quickly.

Statutory Provisions

Statutory provisions are provided side by side with legal concepts to help you swiftly locate the relevant legislation.

Case Summaries

We have summarised important cases for you so that you don't need to read long and boring cases.

Rules and Exceptions

Rules and exceptions are clearly listed so that you know when a rule applies and when it doesn't.


Legal terms and key concepts are explained at the beginning of each chapter to help you learn efficiently.

Case Law

Case law is provided side by side with legal concepts so that you know how legal principles and precedents were established.

Law Essay Guide

You will learn essential law exam skills and essay writing techniques that are not taught in class.

Problem Question Guide

We will show you how to answer problem questions step by step to achieve first-class results.

Structured Explanations

Complex legal concepts are broken down into concise and digestible bullet point explanations.

Legal Research

You will learn legal research techniques with our study guide and become a proficient legal researcher.


All essential concepts, principles, and case law are included so that you can answer exam questions quickly.