The case of Abdul Hussain [1999] Crim LR 570 explores the boundaries of the defence of duress in criminal law, particularly in situations involving hijacking and the imminent threat to life. This case summary offers an overview of the case and explores various exam questions that law students will find helpful.

  • In the case of Abdul Hussain [1999] Crim L.R. 570, it was held that in criminal cases, the defence of duress can only be raised where a defendant faces an imminent, but not necessarily immediate, threat.

Facts of the Case in Abdul Hussain [1999]

  • D were all Shiite Muslims from Southern Iraq. All save one were fugitives for offending the laws or regulations of the Saddam Hussein regime.
  • In 1996, D were living in Sudan and feared they would be killed if they returned to Iraq. One had a permit to reside in the UK.
  • This member of D helped Iraqis to obtain false papers and to bribe officials and believed himself to be at risk of detection and deportation to Iraq.
  • D made several unsuccessful attempts to leave Sudan using false passports. By August all had overstayed and feared deportation.
  • D boarded an airbus bound for Jordan equipped with plastic knives and mustard bottles modified to look like hand grenades.
  • Once in Egyptian airspace, D gained control of the plane by threatening the crew. The plane landed at Stansted airport 12 hours later.
  • After 8 hours of negotiations, the crew and passengers were released, and D surrendered to the authorities.
  • At trial, D admitted to hijacking but contended that they did so as a last resort to escape death at the hands of the Iraqi authorities.
  • The trial judge did not leave the defence of duress to the jury because the threat was insufficiently close and immediate.
  • D were convicted and appealed on the grounds that the judge should have left the duress defence to the jury’s consideration.


  • To raise the defence of duress, did the threat need to be immediate and give rise to a ‘virtually spontaneous reaction to the physical risk?

Held by the Court of Appeal (Criminal Division)

  • Finding for D, that the defence of duress by threat or circumstances is available to all offences other than murder, attempted murder of treason. Imminent peril of death or serious injury must be in the mind of D at the time of the offence, but it does not need to be immediate.

Rose L.J.

  • The defence of duress is available to relation to hijacking aircraft, although the terror induced in innocent passengers will generally raise issues regarding the proportionality of their methods.
  • “That imminent peril of death or serious injury to the defendant or his dependants had to operate on the mind of the defendant at the time he committed the act so as to overbear his will, but the execution of the threat need not be immediately in prospect; that the period of time which elapsed between the inception of the peril and the defendant’s act was a relevant but not determinative factor” [570].
  • All the circumstances of the peril, including the number, identity and status of persons creating it, and any opportunities to avoid it, are relevant factors for consideration. In appropriate cases, the jury should assess whether the defendant’s mind was so affected as to overbear his will.
  • The judge interpreted the law too strictly in seeking a virtually spontaneous reaction. According to Martin [1989] 88 Cr.App.R. 345, he should have asked whether there was evidence of fear operating on D’s minds at the time of hijacking, and if there was any evidence that the danger objectively existed, and the hijacking was a reasonable and proportionate response to it.

Significance of the Case in Legal Development

Abdul Hussain is a landmark case in criminal law, especially concerning the application of duress as a defense in severe criminal acts such as hijacking. It interacts with various other cases, shaping the jurisprudence around duress:

  1. R v Graham [1982]: This case provides a framework for assessing the reasonableness of a defendant’s actions under duress, which is crucial for understanding the decisions in Abdul Hussain.
  2. R v Howe [1987]: Howe established that duress cannot be a defense to murder, which contrasts with its application in Abdul Hussain to non-lethal crimes.
  3. R v Gotts [1992]: Similar to Howe, Gotts determined that duress is not a defense to attempted murder, highlighting the limits of this defense which Abdul Hussain further explores in the context of hijacking.

Exam Questions & Answers

Below you will find answers to the most common exam questions about this case:

How does the application of duress in Abdul Hussain align with international legal standards on human rights?

The case of Abdul Hussain significantly intersects with international legal standards on human rights, which emphasize the necessity and proportionality of actions taken under duress. The European Court of Human Rights, for instance, examines whether actions taken under imminent threats comply with essential human rights protections, particularly the right to life and the prohibition of inhumane treatment, challenging nations to scrutinize the application of duress defenses under their legal frameworks.

What are the implications of Abdul Hussain for handling cases involving terrorism or political asylum seekers?

Abdul Hussain’s case opens a complex dialogue on handling cases of terrorism where defendants claim duress. This precedent is critical in contexts where individuals assert that their illegal actions were the only means to avoid greater harm. It affects how courts perceive the motivations of asylum seekers who may have committed acts considered criminal in their pursuit of safety, influencing both asylum adjudications and broader terrorism-related legislation.

How has subsequent legislation or case law refined the principles established in Abdul Hussain regarding the immediacy of threat and the proportionality of response?

Following Abdul Hussain, subsequent case law and legislation have had to more precisely define what constitutes an ‘immediate’ threat and a ‘proportional’ response under duress. This refinement helps in clearly delineating the acceptable limits of this defense, especially in high-stakes crimes. Legislative amendments and judicial interpretations continue to explore these boundaries, ensuring that the defense of duress remains applicable yet carefully circumscribed to prevent abuse.