Automatism A2 Criminal Law G153 - Janki Soni

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  • Created by: Janki
  • Created on: 13-05-11 16:24

What is Automatism?

Automatism was defined by Lord Denning where such a state of mind is caused by an external factor meaning a swarm of bees, sneezing or a muscle spasm that makes the defendant to be unconscious and unable to resist his actions. Therefore there is an absence of fault and the act is involuntary. There are two types of Automatism such as Insane and Non – Insane. Insane is defined through the M'Naughten Rules within insanity and Non – insane is whereby such an action deters the person from controlling his actions for example, in the case of Hill v Baxter the courts held that the defendant could not be liable as the external factor was the swarm of the bees and therefore he couldn't control his driving. T 1990 also outlined that stress could be an external factor here the defendant was ***** and was later involved in a robbery and an assault she stated that she acted in a dream like state and the courts held that post traumatic stress could also be a factor.  

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However, in the case of Attorney General Reference – No.2 1992 (1993) the courts held that reduced or partial control was not sufficient for the defence of automatism. The defendant in this case drove half a mile on the hard shoulder and hit a car that was stationary he claimed that he was driving without awareness however, this could not satisfy for the defence of automatism. Where the defendant has self induced himself and knows the risk he cannot use this defence. For example, where a diabetic takes insulin he has to eat enough but if he doesn't there could be problems. This was shown in the case of Bailey whereby the defendant was a diabetic and didn't eat enough and therefore became so aggressive that he hit a man in the pub. The courts however, couldn't decide on whether he could use the defence of automatism as there was insufficient evidence.

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Where the defendant is liable for that of a specific intent offence he can use the defence of automatism however, it is much complicated with that of a basic intent offence as recklessness in a course of conduct. Therefore, the three guidances set on Bailey were that
1) Where Defendant has self induced himself and knows the risk he cannot use the defence of automatism.
2) Where Defendant engages in activity that includes illegal drugs or alcohol he cannot use the defence as it could be said that this act is voluntary.
3) Where the Defendant genuinely does not know whether there is a risk of such harm he can use the defence of automatism. This is shown in the case of Hardie where Defendant's girlfriend told him to move out and as a result became depressed. He then took Valium as the normal effect would have been to calm him down considering it is an anti – anxiety drug however, it had the opposite effect on him causing him to set fire to a wardrobe. The courts held that he could use automatism as he genuinely believed that taking the drug would calm him down as this is the normal effect.

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There are however, problems within the law as both insane and non – insane automatism are so different and have a different effect therefore a non lawyer who considers a situation to be that of non – insane automatism may actually be considered insane automatism within the law. The system now allows the judge to impose a medical treatment for those have pleaded not guilty under insanity and a complete acquittal for someone who pleas under the defence of automatism could lead to problems as to leaving a dangerous man walk way even though what he did was in an automatic state and maybe he himself could benefit from medical treatment. 
However to resolve many problems in this area of the law, there have been such proposals from the Draft Criminal Code that have included a range of factors that can be used for non – insane automatism such as, sleep walking and epilepsy etc. Therefore, the case of Sullivan and Burgees can use a plea for non – insane than that of insanity. 
Janki Soni 

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