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   Case summaries      A-G v Whelan

A-G v Whelan [1933] IEHC 1

The appellant had been convicted of handling stolen goods. The jury had made a finding of fact that he had acted under threat of death or immediate personal violence. The trial judge held that this finding lead in law to a conviction with the issue of duress being a matter for sentencing. The appellant appealed contending that the finding of the jury should have resulted in an acquittal.


The appeal was allowed and the conviction quashed. Duress is a complete defence and not simply a matter of mitigation in sentence.

Murnaghan J:

"It seems to us that threats of immediate death or serious personal violence so great as to overbear the ordinary power of human resistance should be accepted as a justification for acts which would otherwise be criminal. The application of this general rule must however be subject to certain limitations. The commission of murder is a crime so heinous that murder should not be committed even for the price of life and in such a case the strongest duress would not be any justification. We have not to determine what class of crime other than murder should be placed in the same category. We are, however, satisfied that any such consideration does not apply in the case of receiving. Where the excuse of duress is applicable it must further be clearly shown that the overpowering of the will was operative at time the crime was actually committed, and, if there were reasonable opportunity for the will to reassert itself, no justification can be found in antecedent threats." 


Back to lecture outline on Duress in Criminal Law