CRIME — Homicide — Diminished responsibility — Defendant intoxicated when killing victim — Defendant suffering from alcohol dependency syndrome — Whether diminished responsibility — Whether judge misdirecting jury — Homicide Act 1957, s 2(1)
In addressing a plea of diminished responsibility in the context of alcohol dependency syndrome, the jury must consider whether it had been established that the defendant’s syndrome was of such an extent and nature that it constituted an abnormality of mind induced by disease or illness, and, if that were established, whether the defendant’s mental responsibility for his actions at the time of the killing was substantially impaired as a result of the syndrome.
The Court of Appeal (Criminal Division) so held in allowing an appeal by the defendant, Clive Wood, against his conviction on 11 October 2006 in the Crown Court at Wolverhampton before Mitting J and a jury of murder.
SIR IGOR JUDGE P, giving the judgment of the court, said that R v Tandy  1 WLR 350 had to be reassessed in the light of R v Dietschmann  1 AC 1209. In the context of alcohol dependency syndrome, the sharp effect of the distinction drawn in R v Tandy between cases where brain damage had occurred as a result of alcohol dependency syndrome and those where it had not, was no longer appropriate. Whether or not brain damage had occurred, the same question (i e whether it had been established that the defendant’s syndrome was of such an extent and nature that it constituted an abnormality of mind induced by disease or illness) arose for the decision of the jury. If the syndrome did not constitute such an abnormality of mind, diminished responsibility based on the consumption of alcohol would fail. If, on the other hand, it did, the jury must then be directed to address the question whether the defendant’s mental responsibility for his actions at the time of the killing was substantially impaired as a result of the syndrome. In deciding that question the jury should focus exclusively on the effect of alcohol consumed by the defendant as a direct result of his illness or disease and ignore the effect of any alcohol consumed voluntarily. If a jury decided that the syndrome constituted an abnormality of mind induced by disease or illness, its possible impact and significance in the individual case must then be addressed. That involved questions such as whether the defendant’s craving for alcohol was or was not irresistible, and whether his consumption of alcohol in the period leading up to the killing was voluntary (and if so, to what extent) or was not voluntary, and led to the ultimate decision, which was whether the defendant’s mental responsibility for his actions when killing the deceased was substantially impaired as a result of the alcohol consumed under the baneful influence of the syndrome. In the instant case the trial judge’s direction that “giving in to a craving is not an involuntary act, even if it is very difficult to do otherwise”, implied that there was no such thing as an irresistible craving and his additional remark that a defendant “later choosing to accept a drink after he has reached his normal quota, is not drinking involuntarily”, was in effect a direction that such a choice was voluntary even when made by an alcoholic. Taken together, those observations implied, wrongly, that unless every drink consumed that day by the defendant was involuntary, his alcohol dependency syndrome was to be disregarded.
R v Wood  EWCA Crim 1305;  WLR (D) 204
CA: Sir Igor Judge P, Aikens and Swift JJ: 20 June 2008
Appearances: Malcolm Bishop QC (Registrar of Criminal Appeals) for the defendant; Roger Smith QC (Crown Prosecution Service) for the Crown.
Reported by: Philip Ridd, solicitor