Attorney-General's Reference (No 6 of 1980) [1981]

Attorney-General's Reference (No 6 of 1980) [1981]

Attorney-General's Reference (No 6 of 1980) [1981] QB 715 revolved around the question of whether consent could serve as a valid defence in cases involving fighting or the intentional causing of actual bodily harm. The factual background involved an agreement between the defendant and the victim to engage in a physical altercation.

During the trial, the judge instructed the jury that they should not find the defendant guilty if the victim had consented to the fight, and if the defendant had used only reasonable force. Consequently, the defendant was acquitted. However, a certified question was brought before the Court of Appeal, seeking clarification on the validity of consent as a defence in assault cases arising from consensual fights.

The Court of Appeal, in delivering its judgment, unequivocally held that consent is not a valid defence in such scenarios. Lord Lane CJ, in his reasoning, emphasised the public interest and stated that it is not acceptable for individuals to cause each other actual bodily harm without a justifiable reason. He made a clear distinction, indicating that while minor struggles might be treated differently, it is immaterial whether the act occurs in private or public.

Lord Lane CJ elucidated certain exceptions to this general rule, which include properly conducted games and sports, lawful chastisement or correction, reasonable surgical interference, and dangerous exhibitions. These exceptions, according to Lord Lane, could be justified as either involving the exercise of a legal right or being necessary in the public interest. Notably, the judgment highlighted the importance of delineating situations where consent could be a valid defence from those where it is incompatible with public interest or legal principles.
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