There is a story in the UK news[i] which is of potential interest to those of us who like a bit of mayhem. One Marius Gustavson appeared in Westminster magistrates court on Wednesday 22nd March, charged with offences including GBH for removing body parts from other men (those parts including penises, testicles,[ii] nipples, as well as damaging legs beyond healing, requiring amputation …). Other men, allegedly involved in the same activities, appeared in other courts. The chopping of bodies is portrayed in reports as perhaps being consensual, and part of a ‘nullo’ subculture (a new thing to me), and the whole process also involved filming, streaming and charging people to view the footage.
It is the suggestion of consent which caught my attention. It is unlikely that a defence based on consent could succeed in this situation, following, in particular, the decision with regard to less extreme injuries in R v Brown back in the 1990s (gay S & M-inflicted injuries, Lancs; consent defence to offences under ss. 47 and 20 of the Offences Against the Person Act 1861 – ABH and wounding – does not work)[iii]. However, I wonder whether it will reignite people’s interest in the law which lies behind Brown, and, in particular, its discussion of mayhem/maim. Whether or not there is a full, discursive, judgment to pore over, I think we can probably anticipate some commentary which takes a bit of a wander through the weird and wonderful world of mayhem.
It does strike me that the injuries in this new case are actually much more clearly within the traditional bounds of mayhem than were those in Brown (or indeed the tongue-splitting etc. in R v. BM).[iv] Statements on the law of mayhem, and its application, required permanent damage, loss of function or total loss of a ‘member’, which I am not sure was present in Brown, though it certainly is here.[v] They are also very much tied to the male body – so damage to testicles in particular is specifically mentioned in the masculine-focused medieval definitions of mayhem. Leg-removal would also be a clear mayhem. Nipples I am less sure about. And Bracton completely failed to anticipate live-streaming, though it did predict one other aspect of this case – keeping the removed bits
We await the next part of the legal process – apparently due for the 19th April – and further enlightenment.
19th April: further proceedings: two men plead guilty to removing the nipple and penis of the alleged ringleader (GBH); there is also information about the procedure, in that lidocaine seems to have been used for anaesthesia, and about other offences,
There are set to be further court dates in May and June, and a provisional trial date in March 2024.
[i] See, e.g. the Guardian report, though it is in many other places.
[ii] Apparently this is done with something called a ‘burdizzo’. I now know 100% more about how this all works than I did 15 minutes ago. I am not sure that that is a good thing. None of the reports make it clear whether anaesthesia was involved. For castration in Bracton, see this post.
[iii]  AC 212.
[iv]  EWCA Crim 560.
[v] Some of the journalism also draws us into a story from Japan of a man who had his genitalia removed, cooked and eaten … Definitely beyond my mayhem-centric remit. I don’t think this was what Bracton had in mind in its passages on castration and mayhem.
Image: Roman castration pliers, obviously. Courtesy of Wikimedia Commons.