On appeal from [2019] EWCA Crim 36.

The appellant purchased quantities of chemicals online. According to his account, this was because he had an interest in military matters, including bomb disposal. He claimed he had acquired the chemicals because he wished to understand how explosives worked and to experiment with them. When a search warrant was executed at his home, it was found he had made a small quantity of a sensitive primary explosive, HMTD, and possessed manuals for making explosives, notes on making the explosive and a video on his mobile phone demonstrating the making of the HMTD explosive. He was charged with offences under the Explosives Substances Act 1883, s 4(1) namely that he knowingly had HTMD in his possession or under his control for a lawful object. The High Court considered that experimentation and self-education did not amount to a lawful object for the purpose of s 4 (1). This was upheld at appeal. The question for the Supreme Court was whether for the purposes s 4(1) of the Act, personal experimentation or own private education, absent some ulterior lawful purposes could be regarded as a lawful object.

A majority of the Supreme Court allowed the appeal. The majority held inter alia that experimentation and self-education are ‘objects’ within the ordinary meaning of that term and are capable of being lawful objects for the purposes of s 4(1). This view was found to be reinforced by the background against which s 4(1) was enacted, including the 1875 Act, under which possession of explosive substances for private experimentation and use was regarded as lawful and legitimate. As there is nothing unlawful about experimentation and self-education as objects in themselves, they are capable of being lawful objects. There is no requirement in law that a defence statement in relation to a charge under s 4(1) has to give a more detailed account of the proposed use of the explosive substance than that provided by the appellant. The appellant ought to have been permitted to present his defence at trial.

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