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R v Wilson [1997]

R v Wilson [1997] QB 47 is a well-known case in English criminal law decided by the Court of Appeal, establishing the rule that consent to acts that may cause actual bodily harm is a valid consent. It was distinguished from R v Brown [1993], where consent was not a valid defence in sado-masochistic activities causing grievous bodily harm.

The defendant, Mr Wilson, branded his initials on his wife's buttocks using a heated knife. Later, her skin became infected and she went to see a doctor who reported the matter to the police. Mr Wilson was charged with assaulting occasioning actual bodily harm under Section 47 of the Offences against the Person Act 1861. The question before the court was whether consent of the wife was valid in the eyes of the law.

The Court of Appeal allowed the appeal, recognising consent as a valid defence, due to the branding being similar to tattooing and Article 8 of the European Convention on Human Rights, which protects the right to respect for private and family life. Russell LJ, in his judgment, emphasised that the ruling of R v Brown [1993] should be limited to sado-masochistic encounters and should not be interpreted as establishing the principle that consent is never a defence to a charge under Section 47 in all circumstances involving deliberate harm. As a result, it was not in the public interest for activities such as those in the case to be considered criminal behaviour. Therefore, the actions of the husband occurring in the privacy of a matrimonial home were lawful and should not be interfered by a public authority.

This case illustrates how the courts may distinguish between different types of activities when considering the defence of consent and highlights the significance of privacy and marital context in such cases.

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

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