10.1.1 Insanity, Automatism and Intoxication – Introduction

Welcome to the tenth topic in this module guide – Defences! When a defendant is charged with a crime, there are several ways in which he possibly could go about attempting to exonerate himself of legal responsibility, reduce his liability or lessen his sentence. This can be done through arguing the facts of a case, arguing a case on a point of law, arguing mitigating circumstances or establishing a defence in his favour. In law, there exists many different types of defences, and one defence may fall under a multitude of categories.

This topic in this module focuses on three different defences: insanity, automatism and intoxication. These defences are all general and excusatory defences, so accordingly can be pleaded in relation to all crimes and apply where the accused could not have committed a criminal act due to an absence of criminal intent or mens rea.

Goals for this section:

  • To understand the components that must be satisfied in order to successfully raise a defence of insanity, automatism or intoxication.
  • To comprehend the difference between specific intent crimes and basic intent crimes, and how it relates to the defences.
  • To appreciate the effect of a successful plea of insanity, automatism and intoxication.

Objectives for this section:

  • To appreciate the delineation between insane automatism as established in the case of M’Naghten and non-insane automatism as defined in the case of Bratty.
  • To be able to identify the distinctions between involuntary intoxication and voluntary intoxication (and the caveat in relation to voluntary intoxication which arose in the case of Gallagher).
  • To be able to analyse and evaluate the nuances of all the defences, as required in an examination.

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