Davies v DPP

JurisdictionEngland & Wales
JudgeLord Chancellor,Lord Porter,Lord Oaksey,Lord Tucker,Lord Asquith of Bishopstone
Judgment Date15 January 1954
Judgment citation (vLex)[1954] UKHL J0115-1
Date15 January 1954
CourtHouse of Lords
Director of Public Prosecutions (on Behalf of Her Majesty)
(Criminal Appeal)

[1954] UKHL J0115-1

Lord Chancellor

Lord Porter

Lord Oaksey

Lord Tucker

Lord Asquith of Bishopstone

House of Lords

After hearing Counsel, as well on Tuesday the 12th and Wednesday the 13th days of this instant January, as yesterday and this day, upon the Petition and Appeal of Michael John Davies, praying, That the matter of the Order set forth in the First Schedule thereto, namely, an Order of Her Majesty's Court of Criminal Appeal, of the 1st of December 1953, might be reviewed before Her Majesty the Queen, in Her Court of Parliament, and that the said Order might be reversed, or that the Petitioner might have such other relief in the premises as to Her Majesty the Queen, in Her Court of Parliament, might seem meet; and Counsel having been heard on behalf of the Director of Public Prosecutions (on behalf of Her Majesty), the Respondent in the said Appeal; and due consideration being had this day of what was offered on either side in this Cause:

It is Ordered and Adjudged, by the Lords Spiritual and Temporal in the Court of Parliament of Her Majesty the Queen assembled, That the said Order of Her Majesty's Court of Criminal Appeal, of the 1st day of December 1953, complained of in the said Appeal, be, and the same is hereby, Affirmed, and that the said Petition and Appeal be, and the same is hereby, dismissed this House.

Lord Chancellor

My Lords,


This is an appeal from a judgment of the Court of Criminal Appeal, pursuant to the fiat of the Attorney-General, who certified that the case raised a point of law "of exceptional public importance". The Appellant had, on the 22nd October, 1953, been convicted of the murder on Clapham Common of a youth called Beckley. He appealed to the Court of Criminal Appeal and his appeal was dismissed by that Court on 2nd December, 1953, the Court's reasons for its judgment being delivered by Sellers, J. two days later. On 10th December the Attorney-General gave his certificate. The appeal was heard before your Lordships on 12th-l5th January, 1954, the House, at the close of argument, intimating their decision to dismiss the appeal, but deferring till later their statement of their reasons for doing so.


Before coming to the facts I should refer to the course of certain earlier proceedings. The trial of 22nd October. 1953, was the sequel of an earlier trial at which the jury were divided. At the earlier trial not only Davies but five other youths were indicted for the murder in question. The case was tried before Pearson, J. All six pleaded "Not Guilty". Against four of them—Power, Lawson. Woodman and Allen, the Crown offered no evidence on the charge of murder, and the jury returned a formal verdict of "Not Guilty" on that issue. Coleman and the present Appellant, Davies, stood their trial for murder. On 21st September, 1953, the jury disagreed as to both, and the Crown announced that there was no intention to proceed with the charge of murder against Coleman. On 22nd September no evidence was offered against him and the jury found him "Not Guilty" of murder. The five defendants acquitted of murder were then arraigned on a charge of common assault, pleaded guilty and were sentenced to sundry terms of imprisonment. It is perhaps pertinent to add that at this first trial Lawson and Woodman, two of the persons against whom no evidence was tendered on the charge of murder, were called as witnesses against Coleman and the Appellant, Davies: and that the learned Judge warned the jury that their evidence should be treated as that of accomplices.


The second trial, in which the charge was murder and the sole defendant was Davies, came on for hearing before Hilbery, J. on 19th October, 1953. The trial resulted in the conviction of the defendant. The main ground of this appeal is that Lawson was again called as a witness, but that Hilbery, J. in his summing up did not give the jury the warning which, it was said, was appropriate and necessary in relation to the evidence of a witness who was, or might well be, an accomplice: that there was an inflexible rule of law calling for such a warning: and that, as it was not complied with, the conviction must be quashed. (There was a second and subsidiary ground with which I will deal briefly hereafter.)


Before dealing with the main contention I will summarise shortly the evidence given at this trial.


On the evening of 2nd July, 1953, four youths, Beckley (the victim of the murder), Chandler, Ryan and Carter, were sitting on benches near a bandstand on Clapham Common. Two were on each of two benches facing each other, and each propped his feet on the bench opposite him, so that no one could pass between the benches towards the stand. Coleman came along and prepared to pass between the benches, but their occupants refused to give way and it would seem that one of them used, concerning Coleman, what he took to be an insulting expression. Coleman then went to a group of persons round the bandstand; and the four boys on the benches, fearing reprisals, withdrew towards what has been called "the Fountain", some way off. The group whom Coleman joined and to whom he said something about the affront he had suffered consisted of a number of people including Davies. From this group about eight, including Davies, later moved off towards the Fountain in pursuit of the four. But it is important to note that before this happened two persons by the bandstand, a man called Leaver and a Miss Pilkington (neither of whom could by any stretch be called accomplices of Davies) agree that Davies, after hearing Coleman's communication, drew out a green-handled knife from his pocket—a small knife with a "push" handle. Leaver further says he heard Davies say: "I shall be all right with this". A lad called Wood also saw a green-handled knife in Davies's possession just after Coleman had spoken to Davies.


Davies and his companions, including Lawson, then proceeded to the Fountain, and a fight developed there between them and the four fugitives. Davies admits hitting Ryan, and Ryan later discovered a stab wound under his left arm-pit. Lawson was engaged in this fight. At some stage in it two of the fugitives allege that someone shouted: "Get out the knives". There is no evidence that at this stage Lawson was still there or that he heard this cry. He swears he did not. Ryan and Carter seem to have moved off from the Fountain in one direction while Beckley and Chandler fled in a different direction to a motor omnibus, which they boarded while it was held up by traffic lights. When it reached its next stop they were torn from its tailboard by Davies and his followers. Davies admits "doubling up" Chandler with a blow on the stomach, in which region, it appeared afterwards, he had been stabbed. Beckley was pursued to a point 113 yards beyond the bus stop. The evidence as to the precise succession of events at this stage is conflicting, but a Miss Frayling, sitting on the front right-hand bench on the top of the bus, testified that she saw Davies (whom she identified with the greatest confidence) "shake" someone, who could only have been Beckley, and who fell to the ground. She then saw Davies cross the road in front of the bus, and as he did so put a green-handled knife into his right-hand inside jacket pocket. In the same pocket later were found bloodstains. Beckley had eight or nine knife wounds, and died shortly after. There was further evidence of threats by Davies later on to two witnesses who said that if necessary they would say who was really responsible for Beckley's death.


It is manifest that this evidence would, on a proper direction to the jury, have been abundantly sufficient to support a verdict of guilty; there being ample evidence that Davies possessed and produced a knife and none that anyone else possessed one.


But it is said that there was not a proper direction, in as much as Lawson was called and gave certain evidence; and Lawson was an "accomplice" of Davies; and the Judge gave no warning that Lawson's evidence should be treated with corresponding caution. It is not disputed that the learned Judge gave no such warning.


Lawson's evidence was, briefly, that some time after the affray, and after he had heard of Beckley's death, he met Davies at a coffee stall in Venn Street, and that Davies said to him that all he tried to do was to "run a knife up and down", and illustrated by a gesture the difference between this and stabbing. He agreed in cross-examination that at the earlier trial he had agreed that Davies might have said: "Somebody must have run a knife …" not "I must have run a knife" up and down, but that he thought it was the latter. In statements to the police, oral and written, Lawson had originally denied all participation in the fight. Later in further written statements to the police and in his evidence at both trials he admitted being present both at the Fountain and the bus-stop phases of it, and in the box admitted that in his earlier statements to the police he lied.


The Judge, in his summing up, dealt with Lawson's evidence on pages 176-177 of the Petition and Record on the appeal and, as indicated, did not warn the jury that that evidence was, or should be treated as, the evidence of an accomplice. It is argued for the Appellant that this was misdirection—or, to use the exact language of section 4 (1) of the Criminal Appeal Act, 1907, a "wrong decision on a point of law". It was not, nor could it, in my view, be argued for the Crown that if this contention were right, the conviction could nevertheless be upheld under the proviso to that subsection on the ground that "no substantial miscarriage of justice" had occurred: viz. on the ground that if there has been no such misdirection a reasonable jury must equally have convicted. The evidence, if...

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