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   Case summaries      R v O Grady

R v O'Grady [1987] QB 995 Court of Appeal

The appellant was an alcoholic. He had spent the day drinking large quantities of alcohol with two friends. The friends then retired to the appellant's home and went to sleep. The appellant claimed he was woken by one of the friends, McCloskey, hitting him on the head. He said that he picked up some broken glass and started hitting McCloskey in order to defend himself. He said he only recalled hitting him a few times and a fight developed during which McCloskey had the better of him throughout. He said the fight subsided and he cooked them both a chop and went to sleep. In the morning he found McCloskey dead. His death was caused by loss of blood. He had 20 wounds to his face, in addition to injuries to the hands and a fractured rib. There was severe bruising to the head, brain, neck and chest. There was a fracture of the spine caused by the head being forced backwards. There was a fractured rib. The blows to the body had been delivered by both sharp and blunt objects. The trial judge gave the following direction in relation to self-defence:

"It might be a view that you might take -- I know not -- that this defendant thought he was under attack from the other man mistakenly and made a mistake in thinking that he was under attack because of the drink that was in him. If he made such a mistake in drink he would nevertheless be entitled to defend himself even though he mistakenly believed that he was under attack. He would be entitled in those circumstances to defend himself. But if in taking defensive measures, then he went beyond what is reasonable either because of his mind being affected by drink or for any other reason, then the defence of self-defence would not avail him because, as I told you earlier [ on, you are entitled to defend yourself if it is necessary to do so, but the defensive measures that you take must be reasonable ones and not go beyond what is reasonable."[/list]

The jury convicted him of manslaughter and he appealed contending:

(1) Whilst the Judge was correct to refer to mistake induced by drink in connection with self-defence, he was wrong to limit the reference to mistake as to the existence of an attack; he should have included the possibility of mistake as to the severity of an attack which was the most likely possibility on the facts.

(2) By leaving the matter to the Jury as he did, the Judge in effect divorced the reasonableness of the appellant's reaction from the appellant's state of mind at the time.

(3) The Judge failed when giving his further direction to the Jury to remind them that a defendant is never required to Judge to a nicety the amount of force which is necessary and that they should give great weight to the view formed by the appellant at the time, even though that view might have been affected by alcohol.


The appeal was dismissed and the appellant's conviction upheld. A defendant is not entitled to rely, so far as self-defence is concerned, upon a mistake of fact which has been induced by voluntary intoxication.

Lord Lane CJ:

"There are two competing interests. On the one hand the interest of the defendant who has only acted according to what he believed to be necessary to protect himself, and on the other hand that of the public in general and the victim in particular who, probably through no fault of his own, has been injured or perhaps killed because of the defendant's drunken mistake. Reason recoils from the conclusion that in such circumstances a defendant is entitled to leave the Court without a stain on his character."