The case of Attorney General’s Reference (No. 1) [1975] Q.B. 773 provides an intriguing analysis of criminal responsibility when procuring an offence. It involves a defendant who introduced alcohol into a motorist’s drink, causing them to drive over the legal alcohol limit. This landmark case is a must-study for law students interested in the intricacies of criminal responsibility.

  • In the case of Attorney General’s Reference (No. 1) [1975] Q.B. 773, it was held that where an offence is procured by someone, the one actually committing the offence does not need to have intention to commit the offence.

Facts of the Case Attorney General’s Reference (No. 1)

  • D added alcohol to a motorist’s soft drink, knowing that the motorist was going to be driving home. D did not encourage them to drive or leave the premises.
  • The motorist was then pulled over for driving with a blood-alcohol concentration above the statutory limit.
  • D was charged with aiding, abetting, counselling or procuring the commission of drunk driving under the Accessories and Abettors Act 1861.
  • D was acquitted on the submission of no case to answer due to a lack of shared intention to commit the offence. C applied for a reference from the Attorney General of this point of law.

Issues in Attorney General’s Reference (No. 1)

  • Did procuring the offence requires a shared intention between the motorist and D that the offence would occur?

Held by the Court of Appeal (Criminal Division)

  • Finding for C, that there is no requirement for shared intention between the procurer and the driver when procuring this offence. Since D added the alcohol without the motorist’s knowledge, and the motorist would not have driven having knowingly consumed alcohol, D factually procured the commission. The finding of no case to answer was wrong.

Lord Widgery C.J.

  • The present case has arisen due to an increase in ‘lacing’ drinks. This does not entitle the driver to acquittal because driving under the influence is an absolute offence, but it can be a special reason for not disqualifying the driver from driving.
  • Section 8 of the 1861 Act provides that whoever aids, abets, counsels or procures the commission of any misdemeanour shall be liable to be tried, indicted and punished as a principal offender. The difference between misdemeanours and felonies was abolished in 1967, but the same test applies.
  • In the great majority of secondary party convictions, there has been a contact between the principal offender and the secondary party. Aiding and abetting inevitably involves discussion and a meeting of the minds between the parties. A person counselling the commission of a crime will likewise share intentions with the offender.
  • When reading the 1861 Act, words should be given their ordinary meaning. Since four different words were used to establish a secondary party, each word must be substantially different. Just because the former three all in practice require a shared intention does not mean they all do.
  • “To procure means to produce by endeavour. You procure a thing by setting out to see that it happens and taking the appropriate steps to produce that happening. We think that there are plenty of instances in which a person may be said to procure the commission of a crime by another even though there is no sort of conspiracy between the two, even though there is no attempt at agreement or discussion as to the form which the offence should take. In our judgment, the offence described in this reference is such a case” [779F].
  • Since the motorist was not aware of his alcohol consumption, he could not take any precautions against it. This makes procuring the offence more viable if there is no shared intention. There is also a clear causal link between D adding the alcohol and the motorist having a greater blood-alcohol concentration. Ergo, D factually procured the commission of the motorist drinking while intoxicated.
  • It has been suggested that allowing this case to stand may lead to ‘the generous host with somewhat bibulous friends’ to be guilty of procuring a similar offence by letting his friends drive home in no legal state to drive.
  • This suggestion is flawed for two reasons. First, the host is not hiding the fact that he is serving alcohol to his friends, and thus they should take precautions to remain in a fit state to drive if they have to. Second, the proper legal approach to such a case would be that the host supplied the tools with which the offence is committed, and there is ample authority to distinguish between a generous host and an aider and abetter.

Significance of the Case on the Development of the Law

The case of Attorney General’s Reference (No. 1) [1975] Q.B. 773 is significant for several reasons in the development of the law regarding secondary participation in criminal acts:

  1. Clarification of “Procurement”: This case clarifies that procuring an offence does not require a shared intention between the procurer and the person committing the act. This principle diverges from the traditional understanding that often associates criminal liability with a “meeting of minds”. The ruling emphasized that procurement could be established through actions intended to cause the commission of the crime, regardless of direct agreement or shared intent.
  2. Influence on Later Cases: The principles outlined in this case have been cited in subsequent judicial decisions to further define the scope of secondary liability. For instance, in R v Giannetto [1997], the court referred to this case while deliberating on whether actions that indirectly encourage a crime could constitute aiding and abetting. Another example is R v Jogee [2016] where the Supreme Court revisited the doctrines of joint enterprise and complicity, drawing on foundational ideas from this 1975 case to clarify the necessity of intent in collaborative criminal activities.
  3. Implications for Legal Defenses: The decision in this case also impacts legal defences available to those charged under secondary participation. For example, in Attorney General’s Reference (No. 3 of 2003) [2004], the courts discussed the boundaries of secondary liability in the context of unforeseen repercussions of a criminal act, indicating the enduring relevance of the principles established in 1975.

Exam Questions and Answers

Below, you will find answers to questions that are most commonly asked based on this case.

What are the potential defences for someone accused of procuring an offence under the current interpretation of the law?

In UK law, potential defences against charges of procuring an offence include lack of intent to procure the crime and mistake. For instance, if the accused can demonstrate that they were unaware that their actions would lead to the commission of a crime, they might be exempt from liability. The case of R v Morrison [2003] illustrates where the accused successfully argued a lack of intent, as they did not foresee their actions leading to the crime.

How do recent legislative changes affect the interpretation of procurement in relation to digital crimes?

Recent legislative changes, particularly in the context of digital crimes, focus on intent and knowledge as key elements. The Digital Economy Act 2017, for instance, extends the interpretation of procurement to include digital facilitation. If a person intentionally provides digital tools knowing they are to be used for criminal purposes, they can be deemed to have procured the crime. The application of this can be seen in cases involving the distribution of malicious software.

What are the implications of this case for liability in cases where the outcome of procuring is unintended but foreseeable?

The ruling in Attorney General’s Reference (No. 1) [1975] Q.B. 773 established that liability could extend to unforeseen outcomes if they were a foreseeable consequence of one’s actions. This principle was further emphasized in R v Cunningham [1982], where the court held that if a defendant could reasonably foresee that their actions might lead to a particular kind of harm, they may be held liable even if the specific outcome was not intended. This emphasizes the importance of foreseeability in determining procurement liability.