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   Case summaries      A-G for N. Ireland v. Gallagher

A-G for N. Ireland v. Gallagher [1963] AC 349 House of Lords

The Respondent was an aggressive psychopath and prone to violent outbursts. This was particularly so if he had taken alcohol. He was frequently violent towards his wife. He had spent some time in a mental hospital for which he blamed his wife. On his release he went out and brought a bottle of whiskey and a knife. He intended to use the knife to kill his wife and brought the whiskey as he knew that this would make him aggressive to the extent that he would be able to kill. He drank the whiskey and killed his wife with the knife and a hammer. He was convicted of murder and appealed to the Court of Criminal Appeal N.I on the grounds of a mis-direction. His conviction was quashed. The Attorney General appealed to the House of Lords on the grounds that the defence of intoxication was not open to him because before taking the drink, when there was no defect in his reason, he had clearly evinced an intention to kill his wife and any temporary derangement of his reason at the time of the killing was the result of his own voluntary act in taking the drink.


Appeal allowed. The conviction restored. Where a person forms the intention to kill and drinks in order to give themselves Dutch courage, they can not then rely on their intoxication to demonstrate they did not have the necessary mens rea.

Lord Denning:

"My Lords, this case differs from all others in the books in that the accused man, whilst sane and sober, before he took to the drink, had already made up 'his mind to kill his wife. This seems to me to be far worse— and far more deserving of condemnation—than the case of a man who. before getting drunk, has no intention to kill, but afterwards in his cups, whilst drunk, kills another by an act which he would not dream of doing when sober. Yet by the law of England in this latter case his drunkenness is no defence even though it has distorted his reason and his will-power. So why should it be a defence in the present case? And is it made any better by saying that the man is a psychopath?"
Back to lecture outline on intoxication in criminal law