R v Shivpuri

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R v Shivpuri
Court House of Lords
Decided 15 May 1986
Citation(s) [1987] AC 1; [1986] UKHL 2
Cases cited Anderton v Ryan [1985] AC 560; R v Hussain [1969] 2 QB 567
Legislation cited Criminal Attempts Act 1981
Case history
Prior action(s) None
Subsequent action(s) None
Court membership
Judge(s) sitting Lord Hailsham LC, Lord Elwyn-Jones, Lord Scarman, Lord Bridge and Lord Mackay
Mistake, Attempt

R v Shivpuri [1986] UKHL 2 is a House of Lords case in English law, on the issue of whether an offence which is impossible to commit amounts to a conviction of an attempt.


The appellant, on a visit to India, was approached by a man named Desai, who offered to pay him £1,000 if, on his return to England, he would receive a suitcase which a courier would deliver to him containing packages of substance which the appellant was then to distribute according to instructions he would receive. The suitcase was duly delivered to him in Cambridge. On 30 November 1982, acting on instructions, the appellant went to Southall station to deliver a package of substance to a third party. Outside the station, he and the man he had met by appointment were arrested. A package containing a powdered substance was found in the appellant's shoulder bag. At the appellant's flat in Cambridge, he produced to customs officers the suitcase from which the lining had been ripped out and the remaining packages of the same powdered substance. In answer to questions by customs officers and in a long written statement the appellant made what amounted to a full confession of having played his part, as described, as recipient and distributor of illegally imported drugs. The appellant believed the drugs to be either heroin or cannabis.

In due course the powdered substance in the several packages was scientifically analysed and found not to be a controlled drug but snuff or some similar harmless vegetable matter.


The certified question from the Court of Appeal (Criminal Division) was "Does a person commit an offence under section 1 of the Criminal Attempts Act 1981 where, if the facts were as that person believed them to be, the full offence would have been committed by him, but where on the true facts the offence which that person set out to commit was in law impossible, e.g., because the substance imported and believed to be heroin was not heroin but a harmless substance?"

The House of Lords adjudged that the certified question be answered in the affirmative. In doing so, it overturned its own ruling the year before in Anderton v. Ryan, applying Practice Statement (Judicial Precedent) [1966] 1 W.L.R. 1234.[1]

External links[edit]


  1. ^ BAILII [1986 UKHL 2, [1987] AC 1]