Oblique intent

Why the name? Well criminal law afficionados will recognise the phrase 'oblique intent' as referring to a problem of mens rea:can a person who intends to do x (such as setting fire to a building to scare the occupants) also be said to have an intention to kill if one of the occupants dies? This is a problem that has consumed an inordinate amount of time in the appeal courts and in the legal journals, and can be taken to represent a certain kind of approach to legal theory. My approach is intended to be more oblique to this mainstream approach, and thus to raise different kinds of questions and issues. Hence the name.

Friday, 25 October 2013

On pumas and Scots criminal law

In March 1976 the landlord of a bar in Leith, Edinburgh was charged in the following terms:
[that he did] keep and allow to go at large, without being under any appropriate care, restraint or control, a puma belonging to (him) or under (his) charge, or in (his) possession, while members of the public were in said public house, and said puma attacked and injured (X and Y) and did recklessly disregard the lives and safety of the public.

The puma in question was apparently normally kept in a cage in the lounge bar (not the public bar). It had apparently at some point been released from its cage by the landlord and had attacked two persons who, according the report, "had previously been asked to leave the premises". The Sheriff convicted the accused of the charge, apparently on the grounds that a puma might be distinguished from domesticated animals kept as pets because it had the
"instincts and unpredictable impulses of a wild animal, rather than a domestic dog, in which ferocity may be a manifestation of its propensity to protect its master's person, property or territory"
Moreover, the fact that the accused had released the puma was evidence of a recklessness towards the safety of others (!).

It would be nice to report that the cases led to the refinement of some legal principle, but unfortunately that is not the case. The landlord appealed against the conviction but, for reasons which have not been recorded, the appeal was dismissed.

An Italian restaurant on the site
of the original Fairley's
For some reason I have not heard of this case before, but it surely deserves to be better known. The decision was not reported, though there a short report in the Journal of Criminal Law (1977 41 J Crim Law 57 for those how have access to the journal). Presumably there was some coverage in the local papers at the time (it is hard to imagine they would ignore it) though I have not had time to check. There is, however, some further information here, which paints an interesting picture of Leith in the 1970s - and raises the possibility that the puma was not the wildest occupant of Fairley's at the time.

1 comment:

  1. There was a story in the Sunday Post about the Puma in Fairleys' pub in Leith. Apparently the animal attacked a Woman who was a Go go Dancer in the Pub.