R v Caldwell [1982]

R v Caldwell [1982] AC 341 is an important case that brought about a new definition of recklessness in English criminal law. This case was primarily concerned with the issue of self-induced intoxication as a defence to offences of specific intent and basic intent.

Caldwell, a former hotel employee who had been dismissed, got drunk and decided to set fire to his former employer's hotel with the intent to damage the property. There were guests asleep in the hotel at the time, and although the fire was extinguished quickly, Caldwell was charged with arson with intent to endanger human life.

The House of Lords ruled that self-induced intoxication could be a defence to offences of specific intent but not to basic intent, which includes recklessness. The case, therefore, has significant implications for offences where recklessness is a key element.

Although the main focus of the case was on intoxication as a defence, there is a notable discussion on recklessness. Lord Diplock, in his judgment, provided a definition of recklessness that has had a lasting impact. According to Lord Diplock, a defendant charged with an offence under Section 1(1) of the Criminal Damage Act 1971 (arson, with intent to endanger life) would be considered reckless as to whether or not any property would be destroyed or damaged if:
  1. The defendant does an act that creates an obvious risk that property will be destroyed or damaged.
  2. When the defendant does the act, either they have not given any thought to the possibility of such a risk, or they have recognised the risk but have nonetheless proceeded to do it.

This definition introduces an element of obviousness. If the risk would have been obvious to a reasonable person, the defendant can be held criminally liable for failing to foresee it.

In summary, this case established a new definition of recklessness in certain criminal offences, particularly those involving damage to property with the intent to endanger life. The recklessness test involves considering whether the defendant's actions created an obvious risk, and if so, whether the defendant either failed to consider the risk or recognised it but proceeded nonetheless.
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