In the latest edition of our "Decoding Judgements" series, we delve into the intriguing case of Fagan v Metropolitan Police Commissioner  1 QB 439, when mere refusal to take an action resulted in an assault charge. By examining the relationship between mens rea (guilty mind)and actus reus (guilty act), as well as the concept of a continuous sequence of events, we'll shed light on the seemingly bizarre outcome of this case.
A Driving Dilemma: Facts of the Case
Fagan v Metropolitan Police Commissioner centres around an incident in which Fagan, the defendant, was instructed by a police officer to move his vehicle. After complying, Fagan accidentally drove onto the officer's foot. Upon the officer's request to remove the car, Fagan initially refused but eventually relented. He was subsequently charged with assaulting a police officer in the execution of his duty.
Assault or Accident? The Core Issue
The crux of the case comes down to whether Fagan's actions constituted assault. Prosecutors argued that Fagan's refusal to move his car off the officer's foot was an act of mens rea, which, when combined with the actus reus of driving onto the foot, amounted to assault. The defense, on the other hand, maintained Fagan lacked mens rea during the actus reus, essentially rendering the incident accidental – and not assault.
The Court's Verdict: Continuous Events and Assault
Ultimately, the court sided with the prosecution, holding that Fagan's actions indeed constituted assault. The judgment revolved around the idea that mens rea and actus reus need not coincide exactly in time, provided they form part of the same continuous sequence of events. As Fagan exhibited mens rea when refusing to move his car, this combined with the actus reus to form the complete offense of assault.
Key Passages: Widgery LJ and Edmund Davies LJ
James J highlighted Fagan's guilt, noting, "There was an act constituting a battery which at its inception was not criminal because there was no element of intention but which became criminal from the moment the intention was formed to produce the apprehension which was flowing from the continuing act."
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Fagan v Metropolitan Police Commissioner serves as an essential case in understanding the nuances of assault and the relationship between mens rea and actus reus.Get started
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