Attempt or attempting to commit an offence was made a statutory offence in 1981 by the criminal attempts act.

A criminal attempt is defined by s1 (1) Criminal Attempts Act 1981 as:

'If, with intent to commit an offence....., a person does an act which is more than merely preparatory to the commission of the offence, he is guilty of attempting to commit the offence.'


Prior to 1981 common law cases had evolved a number of tests to decide if the actions of the defendant did amount to attempt. For example, the last act test and the proximity test would have been used, nowadays these tests are classed as irrelevant.


The purpose of the 1981 Act was to replace the common law tests and previous decisions with a statutory definition of the offence which laid down a test in order to help all concerned with a common sense and practical approach. This also reflects the idea that members of the jury will probably know when somebody has been up to no good.The first issue is to determine what amounts to an attempt or to identify the actus reus of attempt. We are now helped by Section 1 (1) of the 1981 Act, which says that an attempt is an act which is more than merely preparatory to the commission of the offence. The Act does not go further and does not provide a definition as to what 'more than merely preparatory' means. So we need to look at how the courts have approached this question in practice.


In Gullefer (1990), the defendant had placed a bet on a dog which was clearly losing. Gullefer jumped over a fence and onto the race track to try to cause confusion as part of a plan to have the race declared void. The trial judge ruled that more than merely preparatory means the defendant must have gone beyond purely preparatory acts and 'embarked on the crime proper.' He (Gullefer) was found not guilty of attempted theft as he was able to argue that amongst other things he had not gone back to the tote office with his betting slip to demand his money back.


In Geddes (1996), the position is less clear. Geddes had been found in a boys' lavatory block of a school. Geddes did not have permission to be on the school premises. When seen he ran away and discarded a rucksack he had in his possession. The rucksack contained a large kitchen knife, rope and masking tape. Geddes was arrested and charged with attempted false imprisonment. Geddes was convicted of attempted false imprisonment but had his conviction quashed on appeal.


In the case of Campbell (1991) the defendant was found not guilty of attempted robbery. Campbell had been arrested and charged with attempted robbery. He had been spotted in the street outside a post office with an imitation gun, wearing a motor cycle helmet and with a threatening letter in his pocket presumably ready to hand to the cashier. He was arrested before going into the post office and it was held that he had not 'embarked on the crime proper', and his acts were "merely preparatory".


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