R v Steane [1947]

R v Steane [1947] KB 997 concerned the examination of the supplementary statutory words with intent to assist the enemy in criminal liability, specifically in the context of wartime broadcasts.

Jack Trevor (Steane), an actor living in Germany before World War II, was arrested, assaulted, and interned at the war's outbreak. He was then asked by Joseph Goebbels to broadcast in English for Germany. Initially refusing but fearing for his family's safety, he relented. After the war, he reported to the liberating forces, explaining his actions. He was charged with acts likely to assist the enemy, convicted, and sentenced to three years' penal servitude.

During the appeal, Chief Justice Goddard highlighted that the prosecution bore the burden of proving the specific intent required by the offence, referencing the settled principle from Woolmington v DPP [1935]. He emphasised that if there was room for doubt regarding the intent or if the jury thought the intent did not exist, the defendant should be acquitted.

Goddard mentioned the possibility of a duress defence but did not explore it due to the unique circumstances of Steane being under enemy control. He stressed that while an inference could be drawn from the defendant's actions, it didn't necessarily imply a guilty intent.

The appeal was allowed due to concerns about the trial judge's jury instructions, suggesting that the threats Steane faced were not adequately presented. Goddard noted that the jury might have been left with the impression that the defendant's testimony regarding threats was inconsequential.

Legal analysis suggests that the decision, being dependent on the offence's circumstances, adds a criterion of true or moral purpose to specific intent offences, extending traditional criminal liability. This decision's enduring impact is seen as potentially significant for scenarios involving morally debatable actions, like broadcasting or unforeseen harmful consequences, where intent becomes a crucial legal principle.
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