Is it illegal to throw foodstuffs at a politician?

Introduction There is a long and noble tradition in this country of politicians and political figures getting a pie in their face when someone disagrees with them. With the pace of modern life, sometimes there’s just not enough time to bake, and urgent action is needed, so people turn to a key ingredient of a pie – the humble egg, instead (if you are interested, here is some further reading on the political history of pie-throwing.

Ed Milliband became the latest recipient of this on 14th August 2013 when a Mr Dean Porter, in protest at the Government (which seems a bit unfair on Mr Milliband as there’s not much that he can do about that) and the ‘Shadow Government’ (his words, not ours) saw an opportunity, grabbed a few eggs, and let rip. This was not the first time Mr Milliband has been on  the wrong end of an egg – he got one slapped on his shoulder last year  for reasons unknown.

The British public aren’t partisan in this respect – David Cameron has been caught a few times, as have many, many others (see here and here for a modern history of egg and pie throwing). Other highlights are Peter Mandelson getting green custard thrown on him and John Prescott getting a bucket of water over him at the Brit Awards.

It is not just in the UK of course. America has an equally strong tradition, as witnessed by this song by Dave Rovics – an anthem to the ‘Biotic Baking Brigade’.

What’s the law on this?

Remarkably few people get prosecuted for this sort of activity [legal note – it is illegal so don’t do it – we don’t want to get in trouble for egging you on], probably in part as politicians want to be seen as ‘good eggs’ and not bad sports. But there are various criminal offences that could be charged:

Assault and Battery Getting hit with an egg is clearly a battery and, if the politician seems you take aim and let fly, then an assault as well (as the politician would apprehend violence). As a result of a Court ruling earlier this year, throwing an egg from behind could now be prosecuted as an attempted battery.

Public Order Throwing an egg in a crowded street could be several public order offences – see here for the full list, but s4, s4A and s5 are clear contenders.

Criminal Damage Even if the politician escapes with suit unripped, it will probably need a bit of a clean, and that is sufficient to amount to Criminal Damage under the law. Of course John Prescott showed the way in meting out ‘swift, summary, justice’ when he was hit by an egg. The thrower on that occasion got more than he bargained for when the former Deputy PM (and former boxer) threw a couple of punches at the assailant’s mullet.

Dropping litter Even if you manage to hit them square in the chest, there will inevitably be some bits of your free range never battery farmed missile which falls to the floor. The result? You could be in line for a fixed penalty for dropping litter (it’ll cost you sixty quid). If so, what ever you do, don’t take it to court because you’ll have the victims’ surcharge to pay on top, which could double your bill.

Is there a defence? There is obviously all the usual defences that are available. The argument that ‘politicians are fair game’ wouldn’t go down well if someone is actually charged, politicians are, after all, human beings. Attempts to introduce a ‘political’ defence along the lines of “I was doing this to make a point / make the world safer for X” also aren’t going to get anywhere and the Courts have repeatedly shut down those attempts (see, as an a example, the Court of Appeal talking about Paul Kelleher who knocked the head off a statue of Margaret Thatcher)

Conclusion It seems that Mr Porter is not being investigated for any offending in relation to this.  Someone asked on twitter what the law on egging someone is. and, unsurprisingly, there are laws about going around throwing eggs at people.

Nick Brown gets a chocolate eclair – new twist on a classic

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About Dan Bunting

I'm a lawyer who works for myself. Legal geek, maths freak, general dullard and jack of all trades. Here’s a few views on law and occasional musings on life. Usual caveats about not relying on anything I say etc applies.

8 thoughts on “Is it illegal to throw foodstuffs at a politician?

  1. Andrew

    Is it illegal to throw foodstuffs at a politician?

    No, but it’s a wicked waste of food in a hungry world.

    Be aware that a disappointed litigant once threw tomatoes at Lord Goddard (he was but a puisne then) and got away with it.

    Reply
  2. Duncan Heenan

    Throwing a punch at someone is illegal, but John Prescott being a mate of Tony Blair’s got away with it, as he has got away with ‘blue murder’ for years. But then, the whole Labour Government of the time got away with starting an illegal war. All of the perpetrators are still at large.

    Reply
    1. Criminal Barrister

      Probably would’ve got off on self defence given the perpetrator was massive and basically slapped Prescott round the head and happened to have an egg in his hand. I’m surprised that this fashion with berating politicians and throwing stuff at them hasn’t been cracked down on. I’m not a supporter of Ed Milliband but if I decided that I didn’t like someone’s views and chucked a load of food in their face I suspect I know where I’d end up. And nobody would be laughing. Rant over. Don’t take the rant personally, I just thought it appropriate to reply rather than post a new comment :-)

      Reply
  3. Pingback: Why MPs should have a payrise | Dan Bunting - A Life in the Bus Lane

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