DPP v Majewski - Case Summary

University / Undergraduate
Modified: 22nd Feb 2024
Wordcount: 626 words


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Legal Case Summary

Summary: Landmark case defining the legal position on self-inflicted intoxication and establishing 'basic intent' in English criminal law.


The appellant, Majewski, was convicted of several offences including assault occasioning actual bodily harm after a violent outbreak at a pub and subsequent assault on police officers. During the incident, he was under the influence of drugs and alcohol (DPP v Majewski, 1976). His defence was, he was in a state of automatism due to self-induced intoxication and was not conscious of his actions or their consequences. Self-induced intoxication in English criminal law has been a contentious issue, and Majewski's case became a turning point in its interpretation.


The main issue at hand was whether a person who voluntarily becomes intoxicated to the point of automatism could rely on this as a defence to a criminal charge. Further, whether differentiating between crimes of 'specific intent' and 'basic intent' had a valid and sound basis in law was also questioned. Considering the societal effects and potential implications of either validating or rejecting this argument raised significant legal questions, setting the stage for an important decision on the boundaries of criminal responsibility and self-induced intoxicity.


The ruling in DPP v Majewski has had a lasting impact on English criminal law. It clarified the controversial issue of self-induced intoxication and established the principles of 'basic intent'. However, the distinction between crimes of 'specific intent' and 'basic intent' has been the subject of ongoing criticism and debate. The decision also has implications for the societal understanding of personal responsibility, given it ultimately reinforced that individuals are expected to bear responsibility for their actions when under voluntary intoxication.


The House of Lords held that voluntary intoxication is not a defence to criminal charges involving 'basic intent'. Lord Elwyn-Jones in his judgement explained that a person who deliberately consumes substances known to weaken control mechanisms cannot absolve themselves of the consequences (DPP v Majewski, 1976). The definitions of 'specific intent' and 'basic intent' were upheld, where the House of Lords ruled that crimes requiring 'specific intent' can be defended by intoxication, but crimes of 'basic intent' cannot. This established the principle that a person is assumed to intend the natural and probable consequences of his actions.


  • Director of Public Prosecutions v Majewski [1976] UKHL 2

Journalist Brief

In the case of DPP v Majewski, a man was charged with assault after a violent incident at a pub while under the influence of drugs and alcohol. His defence was that he was so intoxicated he was unconscious of his actions. The case reached the House of Lords, where it was ruled that self-induced intoxication is not a valid defence for crimes involving 'basic intent', essentially crimes where harm is a predictable outcome. This landmark case set significant precedents for English criminal law.


What is the significance of the DPP v Majewski case?

Answer: The case set a precedent in English criminal law by defining the legal position on self-inflicted intoxication and differentiating between 'specific intent' and 'basic intent' crimes.

Can self-induced intoxication be used as a defence in a criminal case?

Answer: According to the DPP v Majewski judgement, voluntary intoxication cannot be used as a defence for 'basic intent' crimes.

What are 'basic intent' and 'specific intent' in English criminal law?

Answer: 'Basic intent' refers to the assumption that a person intends the natural and probable consequences of their actions. 'Specific intent', on the other hand, requires an intent to cause specific consequences or circumstance.

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