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Diminished Responsibility

A charge of murder can be reduced to voluntary manslaughter where the defendant can successfully argue one of the following defences:. Diminished responsibility;. Loss of control; or. Suicide pact. Diminished responsibility.

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Diminished Responsibility

Presentation on theme: "Diminished Responsibility"— Presentation transcript:


Diminished ResponsibilitySlide2

A charge of murder can be reduced to voluntary manslaughter where the defendant can successfully argue one of the following defences:

Diminished responsibility;

Loss of control; orSuicide pact

Diminished responsibilitySlide3

Definition of diminished responsibility


defence is set out in s 2 (1) of the Homicide Act 1957 as amended by s 52 of the Corners and Justice Act 2009The effect of this section is that:

A person who kills or is a party to the killing of another is not to be convicted of murder if he was suffering from an abnormality of mental functioning which


Arose from a recognised medical condition


substantially impaired the defendant's ability to


the nature of his conduct; or

Form a rational judgment; or

Exercise self-control


Provides an explanation for the defendant's acts omissions in doing or being a party to the killing

The burden of proving the defence rests on the defendant, but it only needs to be proven on the balance of probabilities


Abnormality of mental functioning

Before s 52 of the Corners and Justice Act 2009 amended the definition of diminished responsibility, the phrase used was

‘abnormality of mind’ - Byrne (1960)Although Byrne uses the old definition it is very likely that the courts will still use the same standard of abnormality, that is:

that the defendant's mental functioning was so


that the

reasonable man would find

it abnormal

– the jury will decide


Covers a wide range of situations:

Seers (1985) – chronic reactive depression.

Hobson (1998) – battered woman syndrome.Slide5

Substantially impaired

Byrne (1960) –the question of whether the impairment was substantial was one of degree and that it was for the jury to decide

Lloyd( 1967) – substantial does not mean totalSeers (1984) ‘substantially’ means more than trivial but not


Medical evidence will normally be given at trial which the jury can

consider - Campbell


Question will be withdrawn from the jury if there is no evidence of substantial impairment.Slide6

What must be substantially impaired?

S 2 (1A) of the Homicide Act , the defendant’s ability to do one of three things must be substantially impaired:

To understand the nature of his conductTo form a rational judgement

To exercise self-control - this was the case in Byrne (1960), medical evidence that his condition of being a sexual psychopath meant he was unable to control his perverted desires; the defence of diminished responsibility was therefore available to him.

Since the Coroners and Justice Act 2009 there must now be some causal connection between the defendant’s abnormality of mental functioning and the killing - s 2 (1B) Homicide Act 1957Slide7

Diminished responsibility and intoxication

Intoxication alone cannot support a defence

of diminished responsibility, Di Duca (1959); Dowds (2012)

Where the defendant has a pre-existing mental disorder, intoxication does not prevent him using

the defence -If the condition existed before the intoxication it is acceptable even though the intoxication may have made it

worse -




Alcohol Dependency Syndrome can be an abnormality of mental functioning – Wood (2008) Slide8

Reform of the law

The Coroners and Justice Act 2009 new definition, using the phrase ‘recognised medical condition’, should be more flexible and allow for future developments in the field of medical science.

The 2009 Act also now incorporates the decision in Byrne (1960) in that the Act sets out clearly what aspects of the defendant’s mental functioning must be substantially impaired in order for the defence to succeed. Slide9

The burden of proof should not be on the defendant, in most other defences once an issue has been raised by the defendant the prosecution has to disprove it

Making the defendant prove diminished responsibility could be seen as a breach of Article 6 of the European Convention on Human Rights which states that, ‘ everyone charged with a criminal offence shall be presumed to be innocent until proven guilty according to law’

Still need for reform?