• In the case of R v Conway [1989] QB 290, the defence of necessity in the situation of reckless driving was considered, as well as the how a jury should be directed.

Facts of R v Conway [1989] QB 290

  • Conway, D, was arrested for reckless driving, contrary to section 2 of the Road Traffic Act 1972
  • The D had recklessly driven away from police officers in plainclothes
  • His defence for doing so was that he was acting under duress, and the circumstances made him fearful for not only his own life, but for the passenger sat beside him too
  • Only some weeks before the incident, the passenger in D’s car was involved in a shooting attack and was seriously injured as a result
  • At first instance, this defence of necessity was not directed by the judge to the jury and thus was not considered
  • D was convicted of reckless driving but appealed his conviction

Issues in R v Conway [1989] QB 290

  • Should the judge have directed to the jury the defence Conway had submitted?

Held by the Court of Appeal

  • The appeal was allowed, and the conviction quashed. The judges agreed that the defence of necessity could have applied and that this was a decision for the jury – had they been properly directed.

Lord Justice Woolf

Touching upon the defence of necessity in general Lord Justice Woolf noted:

  • “It appears that it is still not clear whether there is a general defence of necessity or, if there is, what are the circumstances in which it is available. We conclude that necessity can be a defence to a charge of reckless driving where the facts establish “duress of circumstances” … it is subject to the same limitations as to “do this or else”” [225]

As for the outcome of the defendant at first instance, Lord Justice Woolf agreed with his claim that the jury was not properly directed, and if they had been the judgment given to him could have been different, as:

  • “he was in fear for his life and that of Tonna. Although it is unlikely that the outcome of the deliberations would have been any different, they should have been directed as to the possibility that they could find the appellant not guilty because of duress of circumstances … it is possible that the jury, if properly directed, would have found the appellant not guilty because of this defence. Accordingly, we allow this appeal and quash the conviction.” [806]