Your Cart

R v R [1991]

R v R [1991] UKHL 12 was a pivotal legal decision in the United Kingdom, establishing that it is a crime for a husband to rape his wife, effectively abolishing marital rape exemption under common law.


The defendant, R, married his wife in 1984, but their marriage deteriorated. His wife left him in 1989 and expressed her intention to seek a divorce. In November 1989, R broke into her parents' house and attempted to force her to have sexual intercourse with him against her will, also assaulting her in the process. He was arrested and charged with rape and assault.


He was later convicted of attempting to rape his wife but he appealed his conviction, arguing that there was a marital rape exemption under common law, which meant that a husband could not be found guilty of raping his wife. He claimed that by marrying, his wife had given irrevocable consent to sexual intercourse with him, which she could not subsequently withdraw.


The Court of Appeal (Criminal Division) upheld the rape conviction. The Lord Chief Justice Lord Lane delivered the judgment, stating that the marital rape exemption was a common law fiction that no longer reflected the true position of wives in modern society.


The case eventually reached the House of Lords. In October 1991, Lord Keith of Kinkel delivered the leading speech, which was supported unanimously by the other four law lords. They ruled that the marital rape exemption was a common law fiction and declared that in modern times the supposed marital exemption in rape forms no part of the law of England.


The judgment in R v R had a profound impact on English law and society. It effectively abolished the marital rape exemption, recognising that marriage does not equate to irrevocable consent to sexual intercourse. The case was later confirmed in statute law by an amendment to the Sexual Offences Act in the Criminal Justice and Public Order Act 1994.


The case marked a significant milestone in recognising the importance of consent within a marriage and ensuring equal protection under the law for all individuals, regardless of their marital status. It reflected the changing societal attitudes and legal reforms related to sexual assault within marriages.


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 

INSEAD

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

University of Buckingham

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.

Terminology

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.

Exam-focused

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