Mancini v DPP

JurisdictionEngland & Wales
JudgeThe Lord Chancellor,Viscount Sankey,Lord Russell of Killowen,Lord Wright,Lord Porter
Judgment Date16 October 1941
Judgment citation (vLex)[1941] UKHL J1016-1
Date16 October 1941
CourtHouse of Lords
Director of Public Prosecutions (on Behalf of His Majesty)

[1941] UKHL J1016-1

Lord Chancellor

Viscount Sankey

Lord Russell of Killowen

Lord Wright

Lord Porter

House of Lords

After hearing Counsel as well on Thursday the 2d, as on Friday the 3d, days of this instant October, upon the Petition and Appeal of Antonio Mancini, praying, That the matter of the Order set forth in the First Schedule thereto, namely, an Order of His Majesty's Court of Criminal Appeal, of the 3d of September 1941, might be reviewed before His Majesty the King, in His 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 His Majesty the King, in His Court of Parliament, might seem meet; and Counsel having been heard on behalf of the Director of Public Prosecutions (on behalf of His 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 His Majesty the King assembled, That the said Order of His Majesty's Court of Appeal, of the 3d day of September 1941, 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.

The Lord Chancellor

My Lords,


On July 4th last, at the Central Criminal Court, the Appellant, Antonio Mancini, was found guilty by the jury of the murder of Harry Distleman, and was sentenced to death by the presiding judge, Mr. Justice Macnaghten. Mancini appealed on the ground of misdirection to the Court of Criminal Appeal where there were two hearings. The first took place on August 20th and as a result re-argument before a full Court was ordered. The case was accordingly re-heard on September 3rd before the Lord Chief Justice and four other Judges, when the appeal was dismissed. On September 11th the Attorney General, acting under section 1 subsection (vi) of the Criminal Appeal Act, 1907, gave his certificate that the decision of the Court of Criminal Appeal involved a point of law of exceptional public importance, and that, in his opinion, it was desirable in the public interest that a further appeal should be brought. Accordingly, the present appeal has come before this House: it is the third appeal on a conviction for murder to reach the House of Lords since the passing of the Criminal Appeal Act thirty-four years ago.


Mancini was the manager of an enterprise called the Palm Beach Bottle Party, with premises in the basement of 37 Wardour Street. On the ground floor of that building were the quarters of a club, on which nothing turns, and on the first floor there was housed the West End Bridge and Billiards Club, of which Mancini was a member. Distleman was also a member of this club, and between three and four o'clock on the morning of May 1st, when he and a number of other members (including a man named Fletcher and Mancini himself) were on the premises, he received a fatal wound in the left shoulder: a main artery was severed. The nature of the wound established that it must have been caused by an instrument with a two-edged blade, with a sharp point and sharp sides, at least five inches long. Mancini at first told the police that he saw a dagger-knife on the floor and picked it up as Fletcher was advancing to strike him with a chair. But at the trial he admitted that he had such an instrument in his pocket—he described it as a knife about seven inches long—which he said he had bought some weeks previously because his life was threatened by gangs of roughs. He said that in the course of fighting or struggling which took place among a number of persons present in the club, he was attacked by Distleman, when he drew the dagger from his pocket and struck out blindly, though without aiming at any particular individual.


There had been an earlier violent altercation in the club when Mancini was not present, as the result of which Fletcher sustained head wounds and had to go with his friend Distleman to Charing Cross Hospital, where two stitches were put in. It was after this that he and Distleman returned to the club.


There was evidence that Fletcher was at enmity with Mancini, owing to the latter having at an earlier date taken steps to exclude Fletcher from the Bottle Party. When Fletcher and Distleman re-entered the club and found Mancini there, Mancini, according to the evidence of the club doorkeeper, came across to Fletcher and seized him by the neck or top of the coat. Distleman went to Fletcher's aid, seized Mancini's shoulder or arm, and aimed a blow at him. It is at this point that Mancini whipped out his dagger and inflicted the fatal blow on Distleman, and a little later slashed Fletcher's hand so that he was severely cut. Distleman, mortally injured, made his way out of the room, but he collapsed at the bottom of the stairs and died in a few minutes.


Mancini gave evidence that he threw his dagger away, and consequently this weapon was not forthcoming; but the Police Constable, who shortly afterwards came on the scene, found a small pocket-knife with its blade opened lying at the side of the dead Distleman in the doorway leading to the street. The pocket-knife was proved to have belonged to the dead man, but how it came to be lying open beside him at the bottom of the stairs was not explained. Shortly after these events Mancini decided to go to the police and make a statement, but at that time he was not aware of the discovery of Distleman's pocket-knife, and, while he described his own action as taken in self-defence, he made no mention whatever of a knife in Distleman's hand. Indeed, in his first statement to the police, he made no mention of any attack on him by Distleman at all. At the trial, however, after hearing the police evidence, he amended his previous story and declared that Distleman attacked him with the open pen-knife, and that when coming up the stairs to enter the club he had heard a voice behind him like Fletcher's saying "Let's knife him." No other witness saw any knife in Distleman's hand, or heard Fletcher's previous remark, though it would appear that some of these witnesses, if their statements are correct, should have done so.


The main case set up on behalf of the accused at the trial was self-defence, and the learned judge devoted the first portion of a very careful summing-up to this question. Mancini's counsel found no fault with this part of the judge's charge at all. It was in fact, if anything, too favourable to the accused, for Mr. Justice Macnaghten did not invite the jury to consider whether, even if it were true that Mancini was menaced with the pen-knife, that would justify the use of Mancini's terrible weapon so as to constitute a case of necessary self-defence, nor did the learned judge make any observations on the question whether Mancini could not have escaped from the threatened danger by retreating from the club. The learned judge was content that the jury should deal with the question of self-defence on the basis that if they believed Mancini's story at the trial about Distleman advancing with the open pen-knife in his hand, they should return a verdict of "not guilty". The jury's verdict shows that they disbelieved Mancini's story. Self-defence by the use of so deadly a weapon could not be made out if Mancini was never threatened with the pen-knife, and the learned judge accordingly proceeded to charge the jury on...

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