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Defences Automatism Notes

Irish BCL Notes > Irish Criminal Law Notes

This is an extract of our Defences Automatism document, which we sell as part of our Irish Criminal Law Notes collection written by the top tier of Trinity College Dublin students.

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Automatism Loss of voluntary control due to external factors. Hill v Baxter (CA 1957) Facts

* The defendant drove a van across a junction at high speed, ignoring an illuminated "Halt" sign and collided with a car.

* He was charged with dangerous driving and failing to conform to a traffic sign but contended that he had been unconscious at the time as a result of a sudden illness. Issue

* Automatism Judgment

* Lord Goddard CJ (concurring)

* The relevant Act contained an absolute prohibition against the behaviour in question and the defendant's state of mind was irrelevant.

* Automatism could be a defence but the onus rested on the defence to prove it and they failed to do so - while it was open to court to believe that the defendant's evidence was consistent with his falling asleep at the wheel, this was not a defence (a sleepy driver has an obligation to pull over)

* Devlin J (concurring)

* The prosecution do not need to disprove automatism unless there is first some prima facie evidence that it is an issue.

* Pearson J (concurring)

* The issue of automatism will not arise unless some evidence is adduced to rebut the presumption that the driver was not in control of himself while driving.

* In the case of an epileptic fit, sudden onset of disease resulting in a coma, blow to the head from a stone or attack from a swarm of bees the accused is prevented from exercising control over his limbs and may avail of the defence.

* If he falls asleep or has an epileptic fit of which there was some foreshadowing, then during the time he had warning, his continuing to drive constitutes dangerous driving as he neglects his elementary duty to retain control while at the wheel. Bratty v Attorney General for Northern Ireland (HoL 1961) Facts

* The defendant killed a girl during what he described as 'blackness' coming over him.

* The medical evidence suggested that it may have been cause by psychomotor epilepsy. Issue

* Automatism - Contrast with insanity Judgment

* Viscount Kilmuir LC (concurring)

* As the evidence attributed any involuntariness to a disease of the mind, the defence of automatism can not be raised and the only defence can lie within the M'Naghten Rules.

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