Defence of Automatism

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  • Created by: Saima
  • Created on: 23-12-12 21:48

Is there Involuntary Conduct?


  • Conduct is not involuntary because it is unforeseen or unintentional (HILL v BAXTER)
  • Conduct is not involuntary because it is not remembered  (HILL v BAXTER)
  • Conduct is not involuntary because the defendant was not able to control his irresistible impulses (ATTORNEY GENERAL of SOUTH AUSTRALIA v BROWN)
  • Not all involuntary conduct leads to a complete acquittal 
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Was this caused by an External Factor?


  • The external factor theory was first introduced in the case of COTTLE
  • This is persuasive precedent, this means that it doesn't have any binding authority on the UK courts 
  • The external factor theory includes 'violence, drugs and alcohol' (Source 1, Lines 15)
  • The first major use to the external factor theory was in QUICK (1973)
  • The external factor in QUICK was the isulin that the Dr prescribed for him 
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= A Total Destruction of Self-Control

  • The defence of automatism requires in a total loss of mental faculties - ISSIT (2005) 
  • BROOME v PERKINS 2007 also agreed that the defence of automatism requires a total loss of mental faculties 
  • In addition to this ATTORNEY GENERAL's REF NO.2 v BROWN found that automatism requires a total loss of mental faculties 
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Specific Intent and Basic Intent Offences

Specific Intent Crimes 

  • Specific Intent crimes include murder
  • If a specific intent crime is self induced the defence of automatism can still be used 
  • R v BAILY (1983) found that the defence of automatism is available for specific intent offences and for basic intent in some circumstance

Basic Intent Crimes 

  • If D has been reckless in self-inducing automatism, D has the necessary Mens Rea and the defence of automatism will not succeed
  • KAY v BUTTERWORTH (1945) found that the defence of automatism will be unavailable when D's involuntary state had been self-induced 
  • Self-induced automatism is where the defendant is too be blamed
  • E.g. Failing to eat after taking isulin 
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Sleepwalking as Automatism

  • BURGESS (1991) suggested that sleepqlaking is seen as a disease of mind and would fall under the scope of the M'Naghten rules 
  • In addition to this, LOWE agrees with BURGESS
  • However, when Lord Denning defined automatism he mentioned sleepwalking as an example of it in the case of ATTORNEY GENERAL of NORTHERN IRELAND v BRATTY (1963)
  • Agreeing with BRATTY (1963) is PARKS (1992) which indicated that the Canadian Courts were willing to see sleepwalking as the defence of automatism and so was prepared to adopt a more flexible approach
  • R v BILTON (2005) and R v ECOTT (2007) found that the defence of automatism can be used in cases of sexsomnia and the defendant can be acquitted 
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