R v Roberts – 1971

February 26, 2024
Micheal James

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Introduction to R v Roberts – 1971

In 1971, the English Court of Appeal delivered a significant judgement in R v Roberts, impacting the legal understanding of causation and victim responses in assault cases. The case centered around a defendant, Mr. Roberts, and his actions towards a woman who subsequently jumped from a moving car, raising critical questions about how far an assailant’s responsibility extends for victim reactions.

Facts of the Case

Mr. Roberts and the victim, who were not previously acquainted, met at a party. After leaving the party together, Mr. Roberts began making unwelcome sexual advances towards the victim while driving. Feeling increasingly trapped and uncomfortable, the victim attempted to exit the car at a stop sign, but Mr. Roberts refused to let her out. Fearful and desperate, the victim jumped from the moving vehicle at approximately 30 mph, sustaining serious injuries.

Mr. Roberts was charged with assault occasioning actual bodily harm. During the initial trial, the jury was instructed that they could convict Mr. Roberts if they believed his actions “caused or contributed” to the victim’s decision to jump, even if it was not the only or most likely outcome. Mr. Roberts was subsequently convicted.

Arguments of the Parties

  • Crown prosecution:
    • The prosecution argued that Mr. Roberts’ initial assault and the ongoing threat of further unwanted advances created a situation of fear and coercion that significantly contributed to the victim’s decision to jump.
    • They emphasized the “reasonable man” test, suggesting that a reasonable person in Mr. Roberts’ position should have foreseen the possibility of such a desperate act in response to his behavior.
  • Mr. Roberts’ defense:
    • Mr. Roberts’ defense challenged the claim of causation, arguing that the victim’s jump was a “daft” and unpredictable act that broke the chain of causation between his assault and her injuries.
    • They asserted that the victim had other options, such as stopping the car or seeking help, and her chosen response was not a foreseeable consequence of his actions.

Court’s Holding and Reasoning

The Court of Appeal upheld Mr. Roberts’ conviction. While acknowledging the “daft acts” defense, the court determined that Mr. Roberts’ actions and the context of the assault had created a situation of “real and immediate danger” for the victim. They reasoned that a reasonable person in the victim’s position could have panicked and felt jumping from the car was the only way to escape further harm. The court stressed that while the victim’s action was not inevitable, it was a natural and foreseeable consequence of the fear and desperation induced by Mr. Roberts’ assault.

Analysis and Impact

The R v Roberts case had a significant impact on legal proceedings involving victim responses in assault cases. It clarified the application of the “reasonable man” test, emphasizing that an assailant’s responsibility can extend beyond their direct actions to encompass foreseeable consequences of their conduct. The case also established the “daft acts” defense, recognizing that victim actions beyond a certain point of unreasonableness can break the chain of causation.

However, the judgement sparked debate about the potential unfairness of holding defendants responsible for unpredictable victim reactions. Some legal scholars argue that placing too much emphasis on the “reasonable man” test can create ambiguity and make it difficult for defendants to accurately predict the range of potential consequences of their actions.


R v Roberts remains a landmark case in the legal landscape of assault and causation. It highlights the complex interplay between an assailant’s actions, the victim’s response, and the concept of foreseeability in determining criminal liability. While the case provides valuable guidance for legal proceedings, it also prompts ongoing discussions about balancing defendant responsibility with victim autonomy and the challenges of predicting human behavior in stressful situations.

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