DPP v Doot

JurisdictionUK Non-devolved
JudgeLord Wilberforce,Viscount Dilhorne,Lord Pearson,Lord Kilbrandon,Lord Salmon
Judgment Date21 March 1973
Judgment citation (vLex)[1973] UKHL J0321-2
Date21 March 1973
CourtHouse of Lords
The Director of Public Prosecutions
Doot & Others

[1973] UKHL J0321-2

Lord Wilberforce

Viscount Dilhorne

Lord Pearson

Lord Kilbrandon

Lord Salmon

House of Lords

Upon Report from the Appellate Committee, to whom was referred the Cause Director of Public Prosecutions against Doot and others (on Appeal from the Court of Appeal (Criminal Division)), that the Committee had heard Counsel, as well on Monday the 4th, as on Tuesday the 5th, and Wednesday the 6th, days of December last, upon the Petition and Appeal of the Director of Public Prosecutions (on behalf of Her Majesty), praying that the matter of the Order set forth in the Schedule thereto, namely, an Order of Her Majesty's Court of Appeal (Criminal Division) of the 5th of May 1972, might be reviewed before Her Majesty the Queen, in Her Court of Parliament, and that the said Order might be reversed, varied or altered 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 Richard Leroy Doot, Jeffrey Richard Loving, Janies Wesley Watts and Michael Augustus Fay, the Respondents to the said Appeal; and due consideration 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 Appeal (Criminal Division), of the 5th day of May 1972, complained of in the said Appeal, be, and the same is hereby, Reversed, and that the Convictions imposed on all the Respondents on the first Count, namely, that of conspiracy to import dangerous drugs, be, and the same are hereby. Restored: And it is further Ordered, That the Cause be, and the same is hereby, remitted back to the Court of Appeal (Criminal Division), to do therein as shall be just and consistent with this Judgment.

Lord Wilberforce

My Lords,


The question of law which has been certified, under section 33(2) of the Criminal Appeal Act, 1968, as fit for consideration by this House is as follows:

"Whether an agreement made outside the jurisdiction of the English Courts to import a dangerous drug into England and carried out by importing it into England is a conspiracy which can be tried in England."


The question so stated is precise, and necessarily so. For it was upon the basis of a ruling by the learned judge who tried the case, answering this question in the affirmative, that four of the Respondents pleaded guilty to and the fifth was convicted on count 1 of the indictment which embodied the conspiracy charge. It was equally this question which the Court of Appeal (Criminal Division) answered in the negative, and consequently quashed the convictions upon count 1. This House is not called upon, or entitled, to consider what the position would have been had a different view of the evidence, or admitted facts, been presented at the trial. We must deal with the question—the only question before us—as it is stated, with one addition inherent, though not expressed, namely, that to import a dangerous drug is a statutory offence under English law. (Dangerous Drugs Act, 1945, section 2, Customs and Inland Revenue Act, 1952, sections 45 and 304.)


I have had the benefit of reading in advance the opinion of my noble and learned friend, Lord Pearson. I agree with it, and with his examination of the authorities which it contains. I desire only to add some brief observations.


The basis of the Court of Appeal's judgment, the starting point of legal discussion in this case, is the proposition that all crime is territorial. In following this principle derived from the Digest and modernised by Huber, common law jurisdictions have been consistent—more so, I believe, than systems of the civil law. It has been applied both as a principle for the construction of statutes (e.g. MacLeod v. A-G. for New South Wales [1891] A.C. 455) and as a principle determining the reach of the common law. It has also a reflection in disputes between States, where international law is concerned. The present case involves international elements—the accused are aliens and the conspiracy was initiated abroad—but there can be no question here of any breach of any rules of international law if they are prosecuted in this country. Under the objective territorial principle (I use the terminology of the Harvard Research in International Law) or the principle of universality (for the prevention of the trade in narcotics falls within this description) or both, the Courts of this country have a clear right, if not a duty, to prosecute in accordance with our municipal law. The position as it is under international law is not, however, determinative of the question whether, under our municipal law, the acts committed amount to a crime. That has to be decided on different principles. If conspiracy to import drugs were a statutory offence, the question whether foreign conspiracies were included would be decided upon the terms of the statute. Since it is (if at all) a common law offence, this question must be decided upon principle and authority.


In the search for a principle, the requirement of territoriality does not, in itself, provide an answer. To many simple situations, where all relevant elements occur in this country, or, conversely, occur abroad, it may do so. But there are many "crimes" (I use the word without prejudice at this stage) the elements of which cannot be so simply located. They may originate in one country, be continued in another, produce effects in a third. Some constituent fact, the posting or receipt of a letter, the firing of a shot, the falsification of a document, may take place in one country, the other necessary elements in another. There is no mechanical answer, either through the Latin maxim or by quotation of Lord Halsbury's words in MacLeod's case or otherwise, which can solve these. The present is such a case.


In my opinion, the key to a decision for or against the offence charged, can be found in an answer to the question why the common law treats certain actions as crimes. And one answer must certainly be because the actions in question are a threat to the Queen's peace, or as we would now perhaps say, to society. Judged by this test, there is every reason for, and none that I can see against, the prosecution. Conspiracies are intended to be carried into effect: and one reason why, in addition to individual prosecution of each participant, conspiracy charges are brought, is because criminal action organised, and executed, in concert, is more dangerous than an individual breach of the law. Why, then, refrain from prosecution, where the relevant concert was, initially, formed outside the United Kingdom?


Often in conspiracy cases the implementing action is itself the only evidence of the conspiracy—this is the doctrine of overt acts. Could it be said, with any plausibility, that if the conclusion or a possible conclusion to be drawn from overt acts in England was that there was a conspiracy, entered into abroad, a charge of conspiracy would not lie? Surely not: yet, if it could, what difference should it make if the conspiracy is directly proved or is admitted to have been made abroad? The truth is that, in the normal case of a conspiracy carried out, or partly carried out, in this country, the location of the formation of the agreement is irrelevant: the attack upon the laws of this country is identical wherever the conspirators happened to meet; the "conspiracy" is a complex, formed indeed, but not severally completed, at the first meeting of the plotters.


A legal principle which would enable concerting law breakers to escape a conspiracy charge by crossing the Channel before making their agreement or to bring forward arguments, which we know can be subtle enough, as to the location of agreements or, conversely, which would encourage the prosecution into allegation or fiction of a renewed agreement in this country, all this with no compensating merit, is not one which I could endorse.


In addition to these considerations, there is substantial authority, both English and American, that jurisdiction exists to try in our Courts conspiracies entered into abroad but implemented here. My noble and learned friend, Lord Pearson, has quoted the English and some of the U.S. cases—there are others there which could be cited. I adopt and do not repeat his analysis. It establishes, in my opinion, that under existing principles of common law, supported by authority, the offence charged was triable in England.


I would add that the further question whether a conspiracy formed abroad to do an illegal act in England, but not actually implemented here, could be tried in the Courts of this country, is not before us and I express no opinion on it.


The appeal must be allowed, the question submitted answered in the affirmative and the convictions on Count 1 restored. I do not feel able or entitled to comment on the sentences imposed as to which we were not supplied with argument or background information. They were, of course, not the subject of appeal.

Viscount Dilhorne

My Lords,


The five respondents, all Americans, were, according to the statement made by four of them, all parties to a conspiracy to import cannabis resin into the United States of America. In pursuance of that conspiracy Volkswagen vans were bought in Europe, taken to Belgium and there fitted out with beds in which hashish could be concealed. The vans were then driven to Morocco by different routes. There hashish was bought and loaded into two of the vans and concealed in the beds. Two vans, one driven by the respondent. Loving, and the other by the respondents, Watts and Fay, were shipped on the "EAGLE" to Southampton. A third van in the charge of Doot and Shanahan was driven to...

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