Trial by Combat: Is it still legal in the UK?
Posted on 15th November 2019
As part of our jobs, your injury compensation solicitors need to go through case law and precedents, to see whether there are any similar cases to those of our clients’. Whilst one particular case bears little-to-no relevance to those of our clients, our injury solicitors have stumbled upon a case which was just too strange not to pass comment on: a Court rejected a 60-year-old man’s attempt to invoke the ancient right to trial by combat, rather than face paying a £25.00 fine for a *minor* motoring offence.
According to the gentleman, Leon Humphreys, under European Human Rights Legislation, he had a right to fight a champion nominated by the DVLA, Driver and Vehicle Licensing Agency, claiming that it would have been a “reasonable” way to settle the dispute,“but it would have been a fight to the death”.
Despite the fact that many would agree that his “rights” are slightly ludicrous, Magistrates sitting at Bury St Edmunds Court on Friday heard that matter, and decided against Mr Humphreys. Having heard how Mr Humphreys offered to fight with “samurai swords, Ghurka Knives or heavy hammers”, the Magistrates declined to agree with him, and fined Mr Humphreys £200.00, as well as ordering him to pay £100.00 in costs. The original fine of £25,00 is £275.00 less than what Mr Humphreys eventually had to pay.
So, if you fancy a good old fashioned fight (although perhaps not to the death, as Mr Humphreys seemed to be wanting), what legal grounds do you have to request this?
Well, even though the decision was recently handed down in the Magistrates Court, the decisions made by the Magistrate’s Court do not set any precedent (so they are not legally binding on any other Magistrate’s Court, or any higher Court). This means that, until a decision is reached by a higher Court to the same effect, no precedent will be set. This is not to say, however, that other Magistrate’s Courts won’t follow suit; in reality, the chances are that they will, after all, it’s hard to imagine that any Court would be willing to support a “fight to the death” scenario, or indeed any scenario that would cause a personal injury.
When was the last trial by combat in the UK?
There is some uncertainty surrounding when the last battle to the death took place in the UK, although the last fully documented battle is confirmed to have taken place in 1597, between two men, Adam Bruntfield and James Carmichael, the latter of whom was accused of murder, and was killed during the battle.
In later years, attempts have been made to abolish trial by combat, with a more modern approach being taken of a criminal appeal, in which a private individual would make a claim of criminal conduct against another, which would then lead to a private prosecution process. The final documented private prosecution is thought to have been carried out in 1818, in the case of Ashford v Thornton.
The following year, Parliament abolished the right to trial by combat, whilst simultaneously abolishing the right to a criminal appeal.
So, given how long the right to trial by combat has been a thing of the past, our injury compensation solicitors are quite shocked to hear of Mr Humphreys request - albeit, the case was heard 15 years ago now, it was still a modern time period - our team would have found it less odd had Mr Humphreys lived in the 1800s!
So, if you’re thinking of requesting trial by combat, feel free, although our team have to warn you that you are unlikely to get anywhere with it. Instead, you may find yourself more than a little out-of-pocket.
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