Automatism Lovely Notes!

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  • Created by: Bridie
  • Created on: 23-04-11 13:37

While insanity is often referred to as "insane automatism", this defence is sometimes known as "sane automatism"

The two defences are closely linked, and indeed, many defendants seeking to rely on automatism have fond themselves being classed as insane

It is important to understand the distinction between insanity and automatism and the different effect that each will have on a defendant.


The basis of this defence is the defendant's inability to control his or her actions

in Bratty v Attorney General for Northern Ireland (1963) Lord Denning defined automatism as "An act which is done by the muscles without any control of the mind" examples given included a spasm, reflex action, and an act induced by concussion.

It has been long accepted that a defendant will only face criminal liabilty for his or her actions if hey were performed voluntarily... HOWEVER with the defence of automatism, a defendant claims that the actus reus was involuntarily and argues that therefore he or she should not be convicted of the offence. Since the defendant is denying the actus reus then automatism may be used as a defence to all crimes, including those classed as strict liability offences


Total loss of voluntary control

The defendant must show that there was a complete loss of voluntary control

Broome v Perkins (1987) in this case an element of control was found so the defendant could not plead automatism

The defendant was in a hypoglycaemic state due to his diabetes. He was convicted of driving without due care and attention after driving erratically and crashing into another car.

The defence failed, however, as the court held that he had not suffered a total loss of control. There was evidence that he had shown sufficient control over his actions to be able to break and steer the car.

Attorney General's Reference (No 2) (1992) there was an element of control found again

The defendant was a lorry driver who drifted onto the hard shoulder of a motor way and killed two people

At his trial, he produced medical evidence on a condition known as "driving without awareness", which was induced by long journeys on straight roads.

On appeal by the prosecution, the Court of Appeal held that automatism should not be available, as the defendant had demonstrated at least partial control over the lorry


The total loss of control must be due to an external factor. This is the key difference between insanity and automatism.


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