A2 - Law - The defence of automatism

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  • Created by: jkav
  • Created on: 16-06-16 13:41

The defence of automatism

Automatism requires the defendant to show that his act was:

  • involuntary
  • due to an external factor

An involuntary act

The defendant's act must be involuntary in that his mind is not controlling his limbs in a purposeful manner. This is similar to Bratty (1963), considered in insanity, where the defendant claimed that 'a blackness came over him'. In that case, Lord Denning said:

'No act is punishable if it is done involuntarily and an involuntary act means an act which is done by the muscles without any control by the mind such as a spasm, a reflex action or a convulsion; 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 done whilst sleepwalking.'

However, it should be noted that this has to be total lack of awareness, not jst partly automatic as in the case of Attorney-General's Reference (No.2 of 1992) where the defendant killed two people whose car was on the hard shoulder of the motorway. He claimed he was driving his lorry 'without awareness', caused by driving for a long time on the motorway, and was in a trance-like state. The court decided that he was still partly in control so automatism did not apply.

The external factor

This requirement is that the automatism has been caused by an external factor, such as a blow on the head, rather than an internal factor, such as a disease. This has already been seen in the topic of insanity. It follows from this that the automatism must not be self-induced - this is the case with self-administered drink or drugs. Automatism is self-induced when it results from the defendant's actions or failing to take action. This can been senn in…


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