Elliott v C (A Minor) [1983]

Elliott v C (A Minor) [1983] 2 All ER 1005 played a crucial role in establishing an objective test for recklessness. However, it is important to note that this objective test laid down in Elliott was later rejected in subsequent cases, particularly in R v G [2003].

A 14-year-old schoolgirl of low intelligence, who was tired and hungry, spilled inflammable spirit and dropped a lighted match on the wooden floor of a garden shed. The girl was charged under Section 1(1) of the Criminal Damage Act for reckless arson. The High Court initially held that she was not guilty, reasoning that she had no knowledge of the risk of her actions, and even if she had thought about it, the risk would not have been obvious to her.

However, the Court of Appeal overturned the decision and upheld the girl's conviction, asserting that she was objectively reckless. Glidewell LJ, in delivering the judgment, stated that the test for recklessness laid down in R v Caldwell [1982] refers to whether the risk created by the defendant would be obvious to a reasonably prudent man rather than the particular defendant. In other words, the court applied an objective standard, disregarding the specific characteristics and circumstances of the defendant.

The objective approach to recklessness in Elliott v C sparked criticism and led to the perception that it could result in unjust outcomes. The inflexibility of the objective standard meant that the particular characteristics and circumstances of the defendant, such as age and mental handicap in this case, were not taken into account.

The objective test for recklessness as established in cases like Elliott v C was later rejected in subsequent legal developments. Notably, R v G introduced a more subjective standard for recklessness, taking into consideration the defendant's awareness and appreciation of the risk, and emphasising the need for a personal mental state element in recklessness cases.
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