Beckford v The Queen

JurisdictionUK Non-devolved
Judgment Date1987
CourtPrivy Council
[PRIVY COUNCIL] SOLOMON BECKFORD APPELLANT AND THE QUEEN RESPONDENT [APPEAL FROM THE COURT OF APPEAL OF JAMAICA] 1987 May 12, 13; June 15 Lord Keith of Kinkel, Lord Elwyn-Jones, Lord Templeman, Lord Griffiths and Lord Oliver of Aylmerton

Crime - Self-defence - Homicide - Defendant police officer killing man believing him to be dangerous gunman firing at police - Jury directed that test for self-defence based on defendant's belief in necessity to resist attack being reasonable - Whether misdirection - Whether honest belief correct test

The defendant, a police officer, was charged with murder. The prosecution case was that the defendant and another armed officer had chased the deceased, who was unarmed, shooting at him and eventually killing him when he had his hands raised and was begging them not to shoot him. The defendant made a statement from the dock stating that he and other armed officers had been sent to a house to investigate a report that the deceased was a dangerous gunman terrorising someone there, and that on arrival at the house he saw the deceased running away with what appeared to be a gun. He said that while he and other officers were chasing the deceased he saw the deceased firing at them and they returned fire killing the deceased. In his summing up in relation to self-defence the judge directed the jury that a man who was attacked in circumstances where he reasonably believed his life to be in danger, or that he was in danger of serious bodily injury, might use such force as on reasonable grounds he thought necessary to resist the attack, and if in using such force he killed his assailant he was not guilty of any crime. The defendant was convicted of murder and sentenced to death. The Court of Appeal of Jamaica dismissed his appeal against conviction holding that the jury had been properly directed with regard to self-defence.

On the defendant's appeal to the Judicial Committee: —

Held, allowing the appeal, that the common law of England was applicable in Jamaica to determine whether the defendant had acted in self-defence; that the prosecution had to prove that the violence used by the defendant was unlawful; that, therefore, if the defendant honestly believed the circumstances to be such as would, if true, justify his use of force to defend himself or another from attack and the force used was no more than was reasonable to resist the attack, he was entitled to be acquitted of murder, since the intent to act unlawfully would be negatived by his belief, however mistaken or unreasonable, although the reasonableness of the alleged belief was material in deciding whether the defendant had a genuine belief; that, accordingly, the trial judge misdirected the jury as to self-defence; and that, as it could not be concluded with the utter certainty required in a case of capital murder that the jury properly directed would necessarily have returned the same verdict, the proviso to section 14(1) of the Judicature (Appellate Jurisdiction) Act could not be applied and the conviction would be quashed (post, pp. 616A–B, 619B–E, 620F–G, 621H).

Reg. v. Morgan [1976] A.C. 182, H.L.(E.) and Reg. v. Williams (Gladstone) (1983) 78 Cr.App.R. 276, C.A. applied.

Per curiam. There is an obvious danger that a jury may be unwilling to accept that an accused held an “honest” belief if he is not prepared to assert it in the witness box and subject it to the test of cross-examination (post, p. 622B).

Decision of the Court of Appeal of Jamaica reversed.

The following cases are referred to in the judgment of their Lordships:

Albert v. Lavin [1982] A.C. 546; [1981] 2 W.L.R. 1070; [1981] 1 All E.R. 628, D.C.; [1982] A.C. 546; [1981] 3 W.L.R. 955; [1981] 3 All E.R. 879, H.L.(E.)

Foster's Case (1825) 1 Lew. 187

Palmer v. The Queen [1971] A.C. 814; [1971] 2 W.L.R. 831; [1971] 1 All E.R. 1077, P.C.

Reg. v. Barrett (Arthur) (unreported), 31 May 1985, Court of Appeal of Jamaica (Supreme Court Criminal Appeal No. 133/84)

Reg. v. Chisam (1963) 47 Cr.App.R. 130, C.C.A.

Reg. v. Fennell [1971] 1 Q.B. 428; [1970] 3 W.L.R. 513; [1970] 3 All E.R. 215, C.A.

Reg. v. Kimber [1983] 1 W.L.R. 1118; [1983] 3 All E.R. 316, C.A.

Reg. v. Morgan [1976] A.C. 182; [1975] 2 W.L.R. 913; [1975] 2 All E.R. 347, H.L.(E.)

Reg. v. Phekoo [1981] 1 W.L.R. 1117; [1981] 3 All E.R. 84, C.A.

Reg. v. Rose (1884) 15 Cox C.C. 540

Reg. v. Weston (1879) 14 Cox C.C. 346

Reg. v. Williams (Gladstone) (1983) 78 Cr.App.R. 276, C.A.

The following additional cases were cited in argument:

Reg. v. Ashbury (unreported), 8 November 1985; Court of Appeal (Criminal Division), Transcript No. 2320/B1/85, C.A.

Reg. v. Caldwell [1982] A.C. 341; [1981] 2 W.L.R. 509; [1981] 1 All E.R. 961, H.L.(E.)

Reg. v. Gordon (Denroy) (unreported), 16 January 1986, Court of Appeal of Jamaica (Supreme Court Criminal Appeal No. 55/83)

Reg. v. Taaffe [1983] 1 W.L.R. 627; [1983] 2 All E.R. 625, C.A.; [1984] A.C. 539; [1984] 2 W.L.R. 326; [1984] 1 All E.R. 747, H.L.(E.)

Reg. v. Tolson (1889) 23 Q.B.D. 168

Sweet v. Parsley [1970] A.C. 132; [1969] 2 W.L.R. 470; [1969] 1 All E.R. 347, H.L.(E.)

Thorne v. Motor Trade Association [1937] A.C. 797; [1937] 3 All E.R. 157, H.L.(E.)

APPEAL (No. 9 of 1986) by the defendant, Solomon Beckford, with leave of the Court of Appeal of Jamaica, from the judgment of the Court of Appeal of Jamaica (Rowe P., Carey and Campbell JJ.A.) given on 10 October 1985 dismissing his appeal against his conviction of murder on 28 March 1985 before Woolf J. and a jury in the Manchester Circuit Court. He was sentenced to death.

At the close of the hearing before the Judicial Committee Lord Keith of Kinkel announced that their Lordships allowed the appeal for reasons to be delivered later.

The facts are stated in their Lordships' judgment giving the reasons for their decision.

Michael Burton Q.C., Daniel Serota and John Perry (of the English and Jamaican Bars) for the defendant.

Ian X. Forte Q.C., Director of Public Prosecutions, Jamaica, and Kent Pantry, Deputy Director of Public Prosecutions, Jamaica, for the Crown.

Cur. adv. vult.

15 June. The judgment of their Lordships was delivered by LORD GRIFFITHS.

On 28 March 1985 the defendant was convicted of murder and sentenced to death. On 10 October 1985 the Court of Appeal of Jamaica dismissed his appeal against conviction, and gave leave to appeal certifying the following question as of exceptional public importance:

“1. (a) Must the test to be applied for self-defence be based on what a person reasonably believed on reasonable grounds to be necessary to resist an attack or should it be what the accused honestly believed? (b) Where, in the instant case, on a trial of an indictment for murder the issue of self-defence is raised is it a proper direction in law for the jury to be told by the trial judge: a man who is attacked in circumstances where he reasonably believes his life to be in danger or that he 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.”

At the conclusion of the hearing their Lordships indicated that they would humbly advise Her Majesty that the appeal ought to be allowed, and the conviction quashed, and that they would give their reasons later. This they now do.

The facts out of which the conviction arose present a confused pattern with many loose ends which might with advantage have been dealt with by further evidence. The defendant was a police officer who on 8 March 1983 was issued with a shotgun and ammunition and sent with a number of other armed police officers to a house at Greenvale Park in Manchester. The prosecution called no evidence to explain the circumstances in which this armed posse was sent out that morning but according to the defendant, in a statement he made from the dock, he and other police officers, including a Police Constable Reckord, were told by Deputy Superintendent Wilson that a report had been received from Heather Barnes that her brother Chester Barnes was terrorising her mother with a gun and that the police must come immediately to save her life. The defendant said that they were warned that the man appeared to be a dangerous gunman and that they must take special care. Heather Barnes, however, who was the first witness called by the prosecution, denied in cross-examination that she had made a telephone call to the police or that her brother Chester Barnes was armed. It is to be regretted that the prosecution called no evidence to explain why these armed police were sent to the Barnes' house. If in fact Heather Barnes had telephoned for assistance it might have thrown grave doubt upon her testimony that her brother was unarmed; if she had not telephoned, the jury were surely entitled to know why so many armed police officers were sent to the house. The inference is obviously that the police must have believed that they were dealing with a dangerous armed man, but in a capital murder charge such matters should be dealt with by evidence not inference.

The prosecution case, based primarily on the evidence of Heather Barnes and a witness named Peart, was that the defendant armed with a shotgun and Police Constable Reckord armed with a revolver had aggressively entered the house whereupon the unarmed Chester Barnes had fled from the house, run across the yard, jumped...

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