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R v Lane & Letts

The Supreme Court held that the principle that the court must read words requiring mens rea into a statutory section is only one of statutory interpretation. It does not empower the court to make different provision for mens rea than is unambiguously provided for in the wording of the statute.


This case resulted from a challenge to a pre-trial ruling in the Crown Court concerning the interpretation of the wording of section 17(b) of the Terrorism Act 2000. The two appellants were charged with entering into funding arrangements connected with terrorism. They were charged with sending money overseas, or arranging to do so, when they knew or had reasonable cause to suspect that it would, or might, be used for the purposes of terrorism.

The appellants submitted that the wording of the statute required them to actually suspect, and for reasonable cause, that the money may be used for the purposes of terrorism. Both the trial judge and the Court of Appeal had held that the objective presence of a reasonable cause to suspect was enough. The appellants, in appealing to the Supreme Court, relied on the well-established principle (Sweet v Parsley [1970] AC 132) that there was a presumption that Parliament did not intend to make criminals of persons who were in no way blameworthy in what they did and therefore that the court would read in words appropriate to require mens rea. The Supreme Court in this case emphasised the importance of that principle "in ensuring that a need for mens rea is not inadvertently, silently, or ambiguously removed from the ingredients of a statutory offence".

Held: Reasonable cause to suspect does not require actual suspicion. It was not within the court's power to extend the principle of reading in a mens rea requirement to contradict the plain statutory wording. An analysis of other provisions in the statute made clear that the plain reading was in line with Parliaments intent.

The appeal was dismissed.

20 November 2018

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