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Jurisdiction England & Wales
Date of Judgment22 march 1985
CourtCourt of Appeal ( Criminal Division)
Judge The Lord Chief Justice
Docket NumberNo. 573/b/85
Judgment Citation [1985] 1 WLR 816,[1985] EWCA Crim J0322-1

Facts of the Case:  

  • On 10th March 1984, the appellant, Debbie Bird, was celebrating her seventeenth birthday at a house party in Harlow.
  • The victim, Darren Marder, had been previously in a close relationship with the appellant, but their friendship had ended.
  • During the party, an argument erupted between Marder and the appellant, who had arrived with his new girlfriend.
  • After heated exchanges and obscenities, the appellant instructed Marder to leave, and he initially complied.
  • However, Marder returned to the party later, leading to another argument and physical confrontations between him and the appellant.
  • During the altercation, the appellant poured a glass of Pernod over Marder, and he responded by slapping her face.
  • The situation escalated, and the appellant, allegedly in self-defense, lunged at Marder with the hand holding the Pernod glass, causing it to break and seriously injuring Marder’s eye. 


The central issue in this case was whether the appellant acted in self-defense when she struck Marder with the glass, leading to his injury. The prosecution argued that her actions were not justifiable as self-defense.

Petitioner’s Argument

Debbie Bird, the appellant, argued that she had acted in self-defense during the altercation with Darren Marder. She claimed that Marder had slapped her in the face, and she believed he would harm her further. Feeling cornered and fearing for her safety, she struck back with the glass in her hand, not realizing the extent of the injury she would cause. Her defense was based on the premise that she had to defend herself against a perceived threat.

Defendant’s Argument

The prosecution’s case argued against Debbie Bird’s claim of self-defense. They contended that Marder had only slapped her once to calm her down, a common remedy for hysterics. Therefore, they claimed that her retaliation with a glass could not be seen as reasonable self-defense. Additionally, they presented evidence from Marder and a witness, Miss Bryant, who stated that Debbie Bird had shown no remorse after the incident, even stating that she would do it again in a similar situation. This evidence aimed to undermine her claim of selfdefense. Moreover, Mrs. Sharpe, the owner of the house where the party took place, testified that Debbie Bird had confessed to her that she had slashed Marder in the face with a glass after he had punched her.

Judgment of the Case

  • The judgment in R v. Debbie Bird centers on the misdirection provided by the judge to the jury regarding the requirements for establishing self-defense. The judge had instructed the jury that Debbie Bird needed to demonstrate, through her actions, that she did not want to fight before she could rely on self-defense.
  • The Court of Appeal, in reviewing this case, found that the judge’s instruction placed an undue burden on the appellant. The court noted that the critical question was whether Debbie Bird had realized she was holding a glass when she struck Marder. If she did not realize it, her actions might have been impulsive and instinctive, driven by a perceived threat.
  • The misdirection by the judge could have influenced the jury’s decision, especially in a situation where the facts were disputed, and there was doubt about whether Debbie Bird was aware of the glass in her hand during the altercation. The jury might have incorrectly focused on her actions demonstrating a lack of desire to fight rather than considering the immediate circumstances and her state of mind at the time.
  • The court held that in “back against the wall” cases like this one, where the appellant’s version of the events might have been true, this misdirection could have influenced the jury’s decision. They emphasized that the real issue was whether the appellant had realized she had a glass in her hand when she struck Marder. If the jury was doubtful about this, the misdirection regarding the necessity to demonstrate a lack of intent to fight could have led to an incorrect verdict. Therefore, they did not apply the proviso to uphold the conviction, and the appeal was allowed, resulting in the quashing of the conviction. 
  • As a result, the Court of Appeal found that this misdirection was material and could have affected the case’s outcome. Therefore, they decided not to apply the proviso to section 2(1) of the Criminal Appeal Act 1968, which allows convictions to stand despite errors if they are considered immaterial. Instead, they allowed the appeal and quashed Debbie Bird’s conviction, emphasizing that the misdirection had introduced an unjust burden on her self-defense claim.

In summary, R v. Debbie Bird (1985) EWCA Crim 2 revolves around an incident at a birthday party where the appellant, Debbie Bird, struck another guest with a glass during an altercation. The central issue was whether she acted in self-defense, and the misdirection by the judge regarding the requirements for self-defense played a crucial role in the appeal’s outcome, leading to the quashing of her conviction.




Written by Aditya Singh, University of Lucknow an intern under legal vidhiya.


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