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R v Gittens (1984) 79 Cr App R 272

The appellant attacked and killed his wife with a hammer and then raped and killed his daughter. At the time of the killing he suffered from severe depression. He had attempted suicide and had been hospitalised and on prescribed medication. On a visit home from hospital he consumed a quantity of alcohol and also took some prescription pills whilst his wife was out. On her return he and his wife had a violent argument and he killed her with a hammer. He was convicted on the two counts of murder.

The evidence of three doctors called on behalf of the appellant at his trial was that he suffered from an abnormality of mind due to inherent causes which substantially impaired his mental responsibility. Two of the doctors considered that the abnormality of mind was due to a depressive illness and the third considered that the abnormality of mind was due to a disorder of his personality induced by psychological injury. The doctor called on behalf of the prosecution agreed that the appellant was suffering from an abnormality of mind, but in his view that abnormality was brought on by drink and drugs and was not inherent and was not the result of an illness.

The judge directed the jury:


"Of course you have a further consideration in this case: that drink combined with taking the sleeping tablets certainly may have had something to do with his acts of killing in this case. I do not think there is any dispute about that on the part of any of the doctors. It may have played some part in what he did, but what you have to decide here is what was the substantial cause of his conduct. Was it the abnormality of mind from which he suffered that substantially impaired his mental responsibility, an abnormality of mind arising, of course, from inherent causes or from disease or injury, not an abnormality of mind arising from the taking of drink - for that does not help? As I say, you ask yourselves what was the substantial cause of his conduct. If it be substantially the abnormality of mind arising for those reasons other than drink or drugs, why, then, the defence of diminished responsibility has been established."

The jury convicted of murder on both counts and the defendant appealed.

Held:

The murder convictions were substituted for manslaughter convictions on the grounds of diminished responsibility.

The jury should be directed to disregard what, in their view, the effect of the alcohol or drugs upon the defendant was, since abnormality of mind induced by alcohol or drugs is not (generally speaking) due to inherent causes and is not therefore within the section. Then the jury should consider whether the combined effect of the other matters which do fall within the section amounted to such abnormality of mind as substantially impaired the defendant's mental responsibility within the meaning of 'substantial' set out in R v Lloyd [1967] 1 QB 175.




Therefore four points clearly emerge from the judgment of the Court of Appeal in Gittens:


(i) Where a defendant suffers from an abnormality of mind arising from arrested or retarded development of mind or inherent causes or induced by disease or injury and has also taken drink before the killing, the abnormality of mind and the effect of the drink may each play a part in impairing the defendant's mental responsibility for the killing.


(ii) Therefore the task for the jury is to decide whether, despite the disinhibiting effect of the drink on the defendant's mind, the abnormality of mind arising from a cause specified in subsection 2(1) nevertheless substantially impaired his mental responsibility for his fatal acts.


(iii) Accordingly it is not correct for the judge to direct the jury that unless they are satisfied that if the defendant had not taken drink he would have killed, the defence of diminished responsibility must fail. Such a direction is incorrect because it fails to recognise that the abnormality of mind arising from a cause specified in the subsection and the effect of the drink may each play a part in impairing the defendant's mental responsibility for the killing.


(iv) The direction given by the judge in R v Turnbull (Launcelot) 65 Cr App R 242 should not be followed.

Back to lecture outline on Diminished Responsibility