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Beckford v The Queen  [1988] AC 130 Privy Council


The appellant was a police officer. He was issued with a shot-gun and ammunition and sent with a number of other armed police officers to a house. According to the appellant a report had been received from Heather Barnes that her brother Chester Barnes was terrorising her mother with a gun. Heather Barnes, however, denied that she had made a telephone call to the police or that her brother was armed.

The appellant said that on arriving at the house, he saw a man run from the back door with an object which appeared to be a firearm. As the police followed him, the appellant stated that Barnes fired at the police, in response to this he fired back, shooting and killing Barnes. In fact no gun was ever found. The trial judge directed the jury:

"A man who is attacked in circumstances where he reasonably believes his life to be in danger or that is in danger of serious bodily injury may use such force as on reasonable grounds he thinks necessary in order to resist the attack and if in using such force he kills his assailant he is not guilty of any crime even if the killing is intentional."


The jury convicted him of murder (which carries the death penalty in Jamaica). He appealed contending the judge was wrong to direct that the mistake needed to be reasonably held.

Held:

The appeal was allowed and the conviction was quashed. The test to be applied for self-defence is that a person may use such force as is reasonable in the circumstances as he honestly believes them to be in the defence of himself or another.
 
Back to lecture outline on the defence of mistake in Criminal Law
 
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