Automatism

Automatism: refers to the act performed involuntarily or without consciousness. In these cases, it is argued that the intent to commit the crime has not been established. Criminal responsibility does not attach to an act done in a state of automatism as it lacks the essential element of mens rea. The general presumption is that the accused is of sound mind. Once the Defence raises the issue of automatism (with supported evidence) the onus of proof lies on the Crown/ Prosecution to show that the act was committed voluntarily and the accused should be acquitted beyond reasonable doubt, as in the case of Hill v Baxter [1958].

To constitute automatism, a condition must

It is possible to raise the defence that automatism has arisen in an individual with a sound mind, whom has entered a dissociative state following some type of trauma which renders them in a state of automatism and to act involuntarily. Some examples of sane automatism are:

  • Sleepwalking
  • Loss of control due to head injury
  • depending on the severity, some forms of epilepsy

However, if the automatism is a result of unsound mind, then the act is considered voluntary but a defence for insanity may be brought.

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