Deception, Mistake and Vitiation of the Victim's Consent
Law Quarterly Review, Vol. 124, p. 132, 2007
Posted: 3 Jul 2008
The paper argues that at present the Criminal law does not contain satisfactory rules for dealing with the circumstances in which a mistake can be taken to vitiate the victim's consent to an action or transaction. Rules on this issue vary both between different offences and within given offences in a way that is neither coherent nor predictable. As a matter of fact consent should be regarded as vitiated whenever the victim is under a misapprehension but for which (s)he would not have given consent, but from a practical point of view it will not always be possible to allow this factual vitiation to have legal effect. To try to find a more satisfactory set of rules the paper offers a series of potential rules placed along a spectrum. Towards either end of the spectrum the rules have greater certainty and coherence, but produce less desirable results in terms of policy. Towards the centre of the spectrum the reverse is true. The paper therefore concludes that no single rule will be able to provide the answer to this area, and that an approach which recognises a series of circumstances in which consent will be regarded as legally vitiated should be retained instead. However, it is imperative that in future these categories be clearly, and predictably drawn and individually explicable and justifiable. As a starting point it is proposed that consent should be regarded as vitiated when the victim has made a non est factum mistake, has been mistaken about something which would render the action or transaction physically different from that expected, or where the victim believed that the defendant had a legal qualification which in fact (s)he lacked.
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