R v Wood  EWCA Crim 1305; 3 All ER 898;  2 Cr App R 34;  1 WLR 496;  2 Cr App Rep 34;  WLR 496;  Crim LR 976
MURDER, VOLUNTARY INTOXICATION, INVOLUNTARY INTOXICATION, ALCOHOLISM, DIMINISHED RESPONSIBILITY, MENTAL IMPAIRMENT
The appellant, Woods, was an alcoholic who drank on average 4 to 5 litres of strong cider daily. After having drunk 2-3 litres of cider, several cans of lager, brandy and vodka, he stayed at the victim’s home. During the night, he woke up and found the victim making unwanted sexual advances towards him. He lost his self-control and killed the victim, by repeatedly striking him with a meat cleaver. At the trial, he claimed diminished responsibility under s. 2(1) Homicide Act 1957. The four expert witnesses agreed that Woods was suffering from alcohol dependency but were divided on the issue whether he had brain damage as a result of it. The judge directed the jury that diminished responsibility was available only if the consumption of alcohol was truly involuntary. According to the judge, drinking more than the normal quota for an alcoholic was not an involuntary act, but giving in to craving and thus, a voluntary act. Woods was convicted of murder.
Is giving in to a craving a voluntary act and therefore, not capable of giving rise to a defence of diminished responsibility under s. 2(1) Homicide Act 1957?
(1) The question whether the perpetrator’s syndrome was of such nature as to cause mental abnormality was material to the case.
(2) If it is not of such nature, diminished responsibility based on consumption of alcohol would fail as a defence to murder.
(3) If the syndrome was of such nature as to cause mental abnormality, the jury needs to consider whether the syndrome was impacting the defendant’s mental responsibility at the time of the killing. In deciding this, the jury needs to consider the effect of the alcohol consumed as a result of the illness, not the alcohol consumed voluntarily.
(4) If abnormality of mind as a result of the syndrome is established, its impact on the individual case needs to be addressed by taking into account factors such as to what extent the craving for alcohol was irresistible, whether the consumption of alcohol in the period leading up to the killing was voluntary or involuntary and whether the defendant’s mental responsibility was substantially impaired by the alcohol consumed as a result of the syndrome.