Legal Principles and Key Points
- In the case of Bowen 1997 1 W l r 372 1996 Crim l r 577, it was established that in pleading the defence of duress the gender, age, and physical health of the defendant are relevant to the applicability of duress, but their intelligence is not
Facts of the Case
- The defendant (D), Mr. Bowen, had obtained electrical goods amounting to around £20,000 by deception. When buying the electrical goods Mr. Bowen did so on credit and did not complete payments of these purchases. The defendant had acted as such due to threats he received from 2 men warning him that he and his family would be petrol bombed if he did not comply.
- The defendant was said to be abnormally suggestable and vulnerable, with a low IQ of 68. During Mr. Bowen’s trial, the judge did not direct the jury to whether or not Mr. Bowen’s characteristics could be taken into account. The defendant was later convicted of obtaining services by deception but appealed this decision.
Issues in Bowen 1997 1 W l r 372 1996 Crim l r 577
- During the initial trial a specialist was called in to provide evidence that Mr. Bowen had the reading age of a child, an IQ of 68, and was a vulnerable individual.
- The issue here was whether the judge misdirected the jury because he did not state that the defendant’s vulnerability was to be taken into account when considering the defence of duress. The Jury was only directed to give regard to the defendant’s age and gender.
Held by Court (Court of Appeal)
- Here the court of appeals held that a low IQ short of mental impairment or mental defectiveness is not a relevant characteristic because it does not make the individuals who experience this less courageous or less able to withstand threats and pressure than ordinary people.
- The appeal was dismissed, and the duress defence did not apply.
- Stuart-Smith LJ stated in the case of duress age and sex were relevant characteristics and physical health might be a relevant characteristic, his thoughts on the others were as such:
- The mere fact that the accused was more pliable, vulnerable, timid, or susceptible to threats than a normal person did not make it legitimate to invest in a reasonable/ordinary person with such characteristics for the purpose of considering the objective test.
- The defendant might be within a category of persons whom the jury might think less able to resist pressure than people not within that category. Examples are age; possibly sex; pregnancy; serious physical disability, which might inhibit self-protection; recognised mental illness, or psychiatric condition.
- Characteristics due to self-imposed abuse, like alcohol, drugs, or sniffing on glue could be relevant.
- Characteristics which might be relevant in considering provocation would not really be relevant in cases of duress, for example, homosexuality.
- Psychiatric evidence may be admissible to show that the accused was suffering from mental illness, mental impairment or recognised psychiatric condition provided persons generally suffering from such conditions might be more susceptible to pressure and threats and thus to aid the jury in their decision-making process as to whether a reasonable person suffering from such a condition might have been impelled to act as the defendant did.