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   Case summaries      R v Wood [2009]


R v Wood [2009] 1 WLR 496 Court of Appeal

The appellant was an alcoholic who had been sleeping rough. He had befriended a group of alcoholics known as the breakfast club and had drunk heavily with them two days prior to the attack. After the second day of heavy drinking he was invited to spend the night at the deceased’s house. During the night he awoke to find the deceased attempting to perform oral sex on him. He attacked him with a meat cleaver and lump hammer killing him. The trial judge, in his direction to the jury, stated:

"Where a man becomes so drunk that he suffers, temporarily, from an abnormality of mind, he may also be acquitted of murder but convicted of manslaughter by reason of diminished responsibility applying the same tests that I have outlined, but that verdict would only be open to you if you found it more likely than not that his consumption of alcohol was truly involuntary. A man's act is involuntary if, and only if, he could not have acted otherwise. Giving in to a craving is not an involuntary act, even if it is very difficult to do otherwise. An alcoholic not suffering from severe withdrawal symptoms, who tops up his overnight level or who later chooses to accept a drink after he's reached his normal quota, is not drinking involuntarily."

The appellant appealed contending that the reference to giving into a craving was a misdirection.


The appeal was allowed and the appellant’s conviction for murder was quashed.

President of the Queen’s Bench:

“The problem with Mitting J's second limb direction is that whether the appellant was suffering from alcohol induced brain damage or not, the experts agreed that the alcohol was consumed by a man suffering from alcohol dependency syndrome. When he directed the jury that "giving in to a craving is not an involuntary act, even if it is very difficult to do otherwise", he was implying that there was no such thing as an irresistible craving and the observation might well have been regarded as a direction to conclude that any consumption of alcohol by the appellant as a result of a craving did not or could not give rise to the defence. When Mitting J added that a defendant "later choosing to accept a drink after he has reached his normal quota, is not drinking involuntarily", he was in effect directing the jury to accept that such a choice was voluntary even when made by an alcoholic. Taken together, these observations implied that unless every drink consumed that day by the appellant was involuntary, his alcohol dependency syndrome was to be disregarded.”

Back to lecture outline on dimished responsibility in criminal law