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Defence of Non-Insane Automatism in Criminal Law
 
 
 
 
 
The defence of non-insane automatism, if successfully pleaded, acts as a complete defence absolving the defendant of all criminal liability. It differs from the defence of insane automatism in that there is no power to detain in a mental hospital neither may any other order be made against the defendant. The defence of non-insane automatism exists where a person commits a crime in circumstances where their actions can be said to be involuntary. This could be where for example an involuntary natural reaction occurs such as sneezing or being chased by a swarm of bees. A finding of non-insane automatism may also exist where the defendant is not conscious of their actions due to an external factor often as a result of medication. The essential difference between insane and non-insane automatism is that for insane automatism the defect of reason must be caused by an internal factor whereas for non-insane automatism the involuntary action must be caused by an external factor.
 
 
 
 
Some case examples of where the defence has been successfully pleaded include:
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
Hypoglycaemia (experienced by diabetics who take too much insulin or not enough sugar) - R v Quick [1973] 3 WLR 26 Case summary, R v Bingham [1991] Crim LR 43 Case summary   
 
 
 
Post Traumatic Stress Disorder - R v T [1990] Crim LR 256 Case summary
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
Requirements of the defence of non-insane automatism
 
 
 
 
1. There must exist an involuntary action arising from external source or reflex action
 
 
2. The action must be completely involuntary
 
 
3. The automatism must not be self-induced
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
1. There must exist an involuntary action arising from external source or reflex action
 
 
 
The involuntary action must not arise from an inside source otherwise a finding of insane automatism will arise:
 
 
 
 
R v Kemp (1957) 1 QB 399  Case summary  - (Arteriosclerosis a condition affecting the blood vessels restricting the flow of oxygen to the brain)
 
 
 
 
Bratty v A-G for NI[1963] AC 386 Case summary  (Epilepsy)
 
 
 
 
            
R v Burgess [1991] 2 WLR 1206 Case summary (Sleepwalking)
 
 
 
 
R v Hennessy [1989] 1 WLR 287  Case summary (Hyperglycaemia arising from diabetes)
 
 
NB the position with diabetics:
 
Hypoglycaemia =  O for Outside source of too much insulin = Non-insane
Hyperglycaemia = Hyper as in a sugar rush with no insulin to counteract it- Inside source of the condition of diabetes itself = insane.
 
 
 
 
 
2. The action must be completely involuntary
 
For the defence of non-insane automatism to succeed, there must exist a complete loss of control. If the defendant retains control over their actions the defence will fail as they are not acting as an automaton:
 
 
 
 
 
Broome v Perkins [1987] Crim LR 271 Case summary
 
 
 
 
 
A-G Ref (No 2 of 1992) [1993] 3 WLR 982 Case summary
 
 
 
 
3. The automatism must not be self-induced
 
 
If the defendant knowingly puts himself in a position of automatism, then the defence of non-insane automatism will fail. Where the external factor is alcohol or drugs the defence of intoxication will apply and will therefore be dependent on whether the crime is one of basic intent or specific intent. 
 
 
 
 
R v Bailey [1983] Crim LR 353 Case summary


 
Non-insane automatism