R v Barnes

Reference: [2004] EWCA Crim 3246; [2005] 1 WLR 910; The Times, 10 January 2005

Court: Court of Appeal (Criminal Division)

Judge: Lord Woolf LCJ, Cresswell LJ, Simon J

Date of judgment: 9 Dec 2004

Summary: Sports law - Criminal law - Grievous bodily harm - Football match - Tackle - Consent - Appropriate threshold for criminal proceedings relating to incidents occurring during sporting event

Instructing Solicitors: Boyes and Maughan for the Defendant/Appellant; Crown Prosecution Service for the Respondent.


The Defendant had inflicted a serious leg injury upon the victim whilst attempting to make a sliding tackle during an amateur football match. The Defendant accepted that the tackle had been hard, but maintained that it had been fair, and that the injury caused had been purely accidental. He was convicted on one count of unlawfully and maliciously inflicting grievous bodily harm, contrary to s.20 of the Offences Against The Person Act 1861. He appealed against the conviction.


When is it appropriate for criminal proceedings to be brought when an injury is caused to one player by another in the course of a sporting event.


Allowing the appeal:- (1) Criminal prosecutions should be reserved for situations where the conduct is sufficiently grave to be properly categorised as criminal. Civil remedies are often available and most sports have disciplinary procedures, so prosecutions will usually be unnecessary and undesirable. (2) Contact sports, including football, are exceptions on public policy grounds, to the general rule that consent is no defence to bodily harm; implied consent exists where the situation is within what can reasonably be expected. (3) All the circumstances must be considered to determine whether the conduct is criminal. Conduct within the rules is unlikely to be criminal. Conduct outside the rules may not be, if it accords with the way the game is conventionally played. (4) The judge’s summing up, which asked the jury to consider whether the tackle “could not have been in legitimate sport” was inadequate and the conviction unsafe.


This decision breaks new ground in the field of the criminal liability of sportsmen for causing injuries. Generally, consent is no defence to a charge of bodily harm: R v Brown (1994). The question how, if at all, this rule could or should be modified in relation to injuries caused by foul play in sport was controversial, with little authority. Some commentators took the view that all injuries caused outside the sport’s rules should be criminal, to maintain the rule of law. This judgment rules out that view. The approach adopted is similar to that of the Canadian courts, where consent may be a defence to a criminal charge based on sporting harm, and the court considers not just the rules but the playing culture of the game when deciding if conduct is criminal. The court’s view that such cases should generally be dealt with by sports regulators was in line with a well-established tradition of judicial non-intervention in sporting matters.