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The defence is set out in Bratty v AttorneyGeneral for Northern Ireland (1963)which states
that: "an act done by the muscles without any control by the mind, such as a spasm...or an act
done by a person who is not conscious of what he is doing such as an act done whilst suffering
from concussion or whilst sleepwalking" comes under the defence of automatism.
The reason for this defence is that the actus reus of the defendant was not voluntary and he
therefore would not possess the mens rea.
It must be caused by an external factor: blows to the head, sneezing or hypnotism are examples.
Hill v Baxter (1958):D drove through a stop sign and crashed. The Divisional Court remitted the
case back to the Magistrates due to stating that there was no evidence to support the defence of
automatism. The courts held that there must be evidence of suffering from automatism.
Exceptional stress can also lead to a defence of automatism. In T (1990)D was raped and then
committed acts of assault and robbery. She stated it was due to posttraumatic stress and
therefore acted in a dreamlike state.
Reduced or partial control is not enough AttorneyGeneral's Reference (No.2 of 1992)
(1993)where D was a lorry driver which due to being in a trance like state killed two people on
the hard shoulder. It was held by the CoA that the condition only causes a partial loss of control
and that this was not sufficient for automatism.
This covers situations where the defendant knows that his conduct is likely to being about an
Bailey (1983)is the leading case and is when the D was in a hypoglycaemic state and hit
someone with an iron bar. The CoA upheld his conviction due to insufficient evidence but set out
rules for selfinduced automatism.
Specific Intent crime: selfinduced automatism can be a defence due to the defendant
lacking mens rea.
Basic Intent offence: the main rule is that the D cannot raise the defence if he was
reckless in bringing about the automatic state. Bailey states:
Due to recklessness being sufficient for basic intent crimes selfinduced automatism is not a
defence where the defendant was reckless.
If it was caused by substances that cause intoxication then the D cannot raise the defence.
This is due to it being a reckless cause of conduct to become voluntarily intoxicated (DPP v
If the D lacks the knowledge that his conduct will lead to the automatic state then they are not
reckless and can raise the defence.
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This occurred in Hardie (1984) where D took Valium due to his girlfriend asking
him to leave. He set fire to the wardrobe. The CoA quashed the conviction as the D
believed that drugs would calm him down due to it being the normal effect of
Valium. Therefore the defendant was not reckless and could raise automatism.
Distinction between insanity and automatism: The difference between Insanity and
Automatism is criticised due to some irrational decisions.…read more