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The defence is set out in Bratty v Attorney-General 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
sleep-walking" 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 post-traumatic stress and therefore acted in a
Reduced or partial control is not enough Attorney-General'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
This covers situations where the defendant knows that his conduct is likely to being about an automatic
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 self-induced
Specific Intent crime: self-induced 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:
o Due to recklessness being sufficient for basic intent crimes self-induced automatism is not a defence
where the defendant was reckless.
o 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 Majewski, 1977).
o 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.
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. One example is the decisions in Hennessy and Quick, in one
instance it is caused by an internal factor and the other external. It is seen as more likely that the internal
factor will reoccur and therefore it is treated as insanity. However, this may not be strictly true and
therefore the distinguishing factors between internal and external factors can be tedious, to say the
Draft Criminal Code (1989) proposed changing the definition of automatism to include acts that deprive
a defendant of effective control of his act. If this definition was taken on board then in the cases of