DPP v Santa-Bermudez [2003]

Director of Public Prosecutions v Santa-Bermudez [2003] EWHC 2908 (Admin) involves an appeal by the Director of Public Prosecutions (DPP) in relation to a criminal assault case. The defendant, Santa-Bermudez, was charged with assault occasioning actual bodily harm (ABH) after a police constable (PC Hill) was injured during a search. The defendant, who had lied about the presence of sharp objects, argued that he lacked the required actus reus as he had not actively caused the injury.

During a search at Stockwell tube station, PC Hill was pricked by hypodermic needles concealed in the defendant's pockets. The defendant, later found to have HIV and hepatitis C, was charged with ABH. Convicted at the magistrates' court, he appealed to the Crown Court, which quashed the conviction, asserting that the defendant's omission did not constitute an assault. The Crown Court, considering the appeal, accepted the argument that the defendant's omission did not amount to an assault, leading to the quashing of the conviction.

The DPP appealed to the High Court, arguing that the defendant's wilful omission, putting the constable in a dangerous situation, constituted the actus reus for the crime. The Divisional Court of the Queen's Bench Division heard the appeal. Mr Justice Maurice Kay, delivering the judgment, rejected the quasi-theological distinctions between acts and omissions in criminal law. He held that the defendant's reckless false statement to PC Hill created a dangerous situation, and the foreseeable risk of harm through omission constituted the actus reus. The court ruled that the Crown Court was incorrect in allowing the motion to dismiss and allowed the DPP's appeal.

The case established the legal principle that an assault can be committed through omission. This principle was later incorporated into statute law through the Sexual Offences Act 2003. This case is significant for clarifying the legal position on acts and omissions in assault cases, emphasising the consequences of a defendant's reckless conduct leading to harm even through omission. The decision influenced subsequent legislative developments in the area of sexual offences.
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