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R v Miller 1982 Criminal Law

R v Miller 1982

R v Miller [1982] UKHL 6, [1983] 2 AC 161 is a landmark case in English criminal law that dealt with the issue of recklessness and criminal liability. The case also established that actus reus can be interpreted to be an act or a failure to act.


The case involved a defendant, Miller, who had fallen asleep while smoking a cigarette, causing a fire to break out in his room in a house he was squatting in. Instead of trying to extinguish the fire or alerting the other residents of the house, Miller simply moved to another room and went back to sleep. The fire spread and caused extensive damage to the house. Miller was charged with arson, and he argued that he had not intended to start the fire and had no knowledge of the risk of fire.


The court held that recklessness, which is the conscious taking of an unjustified risk, could establish the necessary mens rea (i.e. guilty mind) for the crime of arson. The court reasoned that as he was responsible for having created the dangerous situation, he was under a duty to take action once he became aware of the fire. As Miller had a duty to take reasonable steps to prevent the fire from spreading, he had breached that duty by failing to take any action to stop the fire. Therefore, he was liable for his omission to take any steps to put out the fire or seek help.


The case is significant because it clarified the meaning of recklessness in criminal law and established the principle that a person can be held criminally liable for the consequences of their reckless actions, even if they did not intend those consequences. It also established that a person would be guilty of his failure to act as long as a reasonable person aware of the dangerous situation he created would not turn a blind eye to it but would act to resolve it. It also highlighted the importance of the duty of care that a person owes to others, especially in situations where their actions could pose a risk of harm.


Check out our exam-focused Criminal Law notes.


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