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R v. B (MA) [2013]

This case concerns the stipulation in the Sexual Offences Act 2003 that a defendant must have a reasonable belief in the victim’s consent to be acquitted and that it is to be determined with regard to all the circumstances.

D and V were a married couple. D suffered from mental health illnesses, such as paranoid schizophrenia, which meant he had many delusional beliefs, e.g. the belief that he was a sexual healer. D was charged with two counts of raping his wife under s.1 Sexual Offences Act 2003. All the conduct elements of the offence were satisfied, and it was accepted that V did not consent to have sexual intercourse with D.

Therefore, the element of the offence at issue was s.1(1)(c), which requires D to have reasonably believed that V consented to be acquitted. In particular, s.1(2) stipulates that the reasonableness of a belief is to be ascertained with regard to “all the circumstances”.

The Court of Appeal had to determine whether D’s mental illness was a “circumstance” that a jury should consider when assessing whether his belief in consent was reasonable.

In the first instance, the judge directed the jury not to consider D’s mental illness when assessing the reasonableness of his belief in consent. Thus, an objective approach should be adopted over a subjective one which would take into consideration any specific attributes of the defendant.

The Court of Appeal approved this decision for two reasons:

  1. On the facts of the case, there was no issue as to whether D’s belief in V’s consent was reasonable because his mental illness did not impair his ability to judge whether V consented.
  2. Alternatively, even if D’s mental illness meant that he misinterpreted V’s behaviour to believe that she consented erroneously, such a belief would result from his delusional psychosis. A delusional belief such as this is, by definition, irrational and, therefore, unreasonable.

The decision is significant for establishing that “reasonable” under s.1(1)(c) refers to what is objectively reasonable. By rejecting a subjective assessment which considers the defendant’s specific characteristics, the decision departs from the common law’s approach to mens rea for other offences, as the judgement explains. The Court of Appeal considered the Committee Stage of the reading of the Bill that became the Sexual Offences Act 2003 but not as an authoritative indication. many purposes) learning disabilities. There is no sign that the Committee had to grapple with the question of whether and when a mental disorder such as a psychotic delusional state or a psychopathic or antisocial personality disorder might be capable of inducing a “reasonable” belief in the consent of a complainant. The Government’s response indicates that the deliberations of the jury will be on a case-by-case basis. The nature of the offence was considered and compared to “genuine belief” in other offences (e.g., where self-defence is at issue, criminal damage, etc.). The Court of Appeal held that the 2003 Act consciously and deliberately does not make genuine belief in consent enough. The belief must be genuinely held and reasonable in the circumstances. However, the decision may create some uncertainty. Hughes LJ suggests obiter that some personal characteristics may be relevant to assessing the reasonableness of a defendant’s belief in consent. The court does not lay down a ‘blanket’ objective test. Some characteristics of the defendant may be relevant to an assessment of the reasonableness of their belief.

Appellate History:

  • Chelmsford Crown Court
  • Court of Appeal [2013] – Decision Approved


  • Sexual Offences Act 2003
  • Consent
  • Reasonable Belief in Consent
  • Mental Illness

See: Sexual Offences Act 2003

Updated on February 24, 2023

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