Wilcox v. Jeffery

1 All E.R. 464 (1951)

Quick Summary

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Herbert William Wilcox (defendant), a journalist, faced legal action for his involvement with American musician Coleman Hawkins (plaintiff) who played in London against immigration rules. Wilcox reported on Hawkins, attended his concert, and praised it in his magazine.

The issue before the court was whether Wilcox’s actions constituted aiding and abetting Hawkins’ illegal performance. The High Court determined that Wilcox’s conduct supported and encouraged Hawkins’ violation of the Aliens Order, resulting in the dismissal of Wilcox’s appeal.

Facts of the Case

Facts of the case Icon

Herbert William Wilcox (defendant), a British magazine reporter for Jazz Illustrated, was implicated in a legal dispute due to his involvement with an American saxophone player, Coleman Hawkins (plaintiff), who performed in London. Despite the prohibition under Article 18(s) of the Aliens Order of 1920, which forbade Hawkins from taking any employment in the UK without official leave, the concert went ahead with Wilcox in attendance.

Wilcox, who had covered Hawkins’ arrival and bought a ticket to the concert, later published an article praising the event. Wilcox’s actions were scrutinized as potentially aiding and abetting Hawkins’ contravention of the Aliens Order. The initial judgment by a magistrate found Wilcox guilty of this charge, leading to his appeal.

Procedural Posture and History

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  1. Herbert Wilcox was charged with aiding and abetting Coleman Hawkins’ violation of the Aliens Order of 1920.
  2. A magistrate found Wilcox guilty of the charge.
  3. Wilcox appealed the magistrate’s decision to the High Court of Justice, King’s Bench Division.

I.R.A.C. Format


Issue Icon

Whether Herbert Wilcox can be convicted of aiding and abetting an offense committed by Coleman Hawkins, whom he has never met.

Rule of Law

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Aiding and abetting can be established through mere encouragement of a criminal activity, even if the encouragement is not communicated directly to the person committing the offense.

Reasoning and Analysis

Reasoning Icon

The court considered several actions by Wilcox that contributed to his conviction for aiding and abetting Hawkins. His presence at the airport to report Hawkins’ arrival for his magazine indicated the significance of the event. Additionally, Wilcox’s knowledge that Hawkins’ performance was unlawful, his attendance at the concert, and his subsequent publication of a laudatory article about the concert were seen as forms of encouragement and support for Hawkins’ illegal act.

The court referenced R. v. Coney in its reasoning, drawing parallels between physical presence at an illegal act and aiding and abetting. The judges concluded that Wilcox’s actions went beyond passive attendance; he capitalized on the event for his magazine, which constituted aiding and abetting Hawkins’ breach of the Aliens Order.


Conclusion Icon

The appeal was dismissed, upholding the magistrate’s decision that Wilcox aided and abetted Hawkins in contravening the Aliens Order.

Key Takeaways

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  1. Presence at an event can be considered aiding and abetting if it encourages or supports an illegal act.
  2. Publicizing an illegal act through media can also be viewed as aiding and abetting.
  3. The case reaffirms that aiding and abetting does not require direct communication with the principal offender.

Relevant FAQs of this case

What constitutes aiding and abetting in the absence of direct assistance to a criminal act?

Aiding and abetting can occur through indirect support, such as creating an environment that facilitates the crime or promoting its commission. The intent to further the criminal act is key, along with knowledge of the illegality of the action being supported.

  • For example: If a person rents out their property for an event, knowing it is for an illegal gambling night, they could be held liable for aiding and abetting the illegal gambling activity.

Can media coverage of an illegal act be seen as aiding and abetting?

Media coverage can potentially be viewed as aiding and abetting if it is intended to encourage or endorse the illegal act. The determinant is whether the coverage provides promotion or positive reinforcement to the unlawful activity.

  • For example: A blog post that provides details on how to bypass security measures for an unauthorized protest may be considered aiding in the perpetration of trespass.

Is physical presence at the scene of a crime necessary to establish liability for aiding and abetting?

Physical presence is not a prerequisite for aiding and abetting liability. Liability can arise from actions that demonstrate support or encouragement of the crime, even if done remotely.

  • For example: Sharing online content with detailed instructions for committing vandalism – despite not being present when vandalism occurs – could result in liability for aiding and abetting.
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