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R v Graham [1982] 1 WLR 294 Court of Appeal

The appellant lived in a flat with his wife, Mrs Graham (the victim), and his homosexual lover, Mr King. The appellant suffered from anxiety attacks for which he was prescribed Valium. Mr King was of a violent disposition and both the appellant and his wife were frightened of him and had experienced violence from him. On one occasion, King attacked Mrs Graham with a knife and the appellant intervened sustaining cuts to his hands as he grabbed the knife. As a result of the attack Mrs Graham went to stay with the appellant's mother. King and the appellant began drinking heavily and the appellant also took a large quantity of Valium. King then told the appellant it was time to get rid of her for good. Together they hatched a plot. The appellant phoned up Mrs Graham and told her that he had cut his wrists and to come round straight away. When she arrived King strangled her with the flex from the coffee percolator. The appellant assisted by holding onto the flex. He then helped King to dispose of the body. King pleaded guilty to murder and was sentenced. The appellant raised the defences of duress and intoxication. In relation to duress, the appellant raised an argument which was supported by medical evidence that his anxiety and intake of Valium would have made him more susceptible to threats. The trial judge directed the jury that an entirely objective test applies to decide whether the threats were such as to overbear the will of the defendant. The jury convicted and he appealed on the grounds that the judge should have allowed the jury to take into account his particular characteristics.


His conviction was upheld. The fact that a defendant's will to resist has been eroded by the voluntary consumption of drink or drugs or both is not to be taken into account. The correct direction to juries should be:

Was the defendant, or may he have been, impelled to act as he did because, as a result of what he reasonably believed King had said or done, he had good cause to fear that if he did not so act King would kill him or (if this is to be added) cause him serious physical injury?
(2) If so, have the prosecution made the jury sure that a sober person of reasonable firmness, sharing the characteristics of the defendant, would not have responded to whatever he reasonably believed King said or did by taking part in the killing? 

Back to lecture outline on the defence of Duress in Criminal law