• In the case of Howe 1987 ac 417 1987 Crim l r 480, it was held that duress is no defence to murder.

Facts of the Case

  • In the first appeal, A and B were taken to a desolate place by X, together with the victim.
  • A, B and X assaulted the victim, and X killed him. On another occasion, A and B strangled their victim.
  • During another occasion, their victim escaped.
  •  A and B were subsequently charged on two counts of murder and one count of conspiracy to murder.
  • they pled defence as they feared for their own lives from X.
  •  The judge left that defence on the first murder, and the conspiracy, but not on the second.
  •  In the second appeal, C and D were charged with murder.
  • C had killed the victim, but his defence was that he had agreed with D to kill through fear that he would be killed by D, and that the gun had gone off accidentally.
  • The judge directed the jury that duress was no defence to murder, but that it could be relevant in deciding whether C’s act was unintentional, or whether C was guilty of manslaughter.
  • He directed the jury that if they convicted C of manslaughter, they could not convict D of murder. C and D were convicted of murder.
  •  Appeals to the Court of Appeal were dismissed.

Issues in Howe 1987 ac 417 1987 Crim l r 480

  • Could the appellants rely on a defence of duress?
  • Is duress maintainable if the person claiming duress is convicted of manslaughter?

Held by House of Lords

  • Appeals dismissed

Lord MacKay

  • Held that when the defence of duress is raised, the test is whether the threat was of such gravity that it might well have caused a reasonable man placed in the same situation to act in the same way.
  • “The Crown having conceded that the issue of duress was open to the appellant and was raised on the evidence, the correct approach on the facts of this case would have been as follows. (1) Was the defendant, or may he have been, impelled to act as he did because, as a result of what he reasonably believed King had said or done, he had good cause to fear that if he did not so act King would kill him or (if this is to be added) cause him serious physical injury? (2) If so, have the prosecution made the jury sure that a sober person of reasonable firmness, sharing the characteristics of the defendant, would not have responded to whatever he reasonably believed King said or did by taking part in the killing? The fact that a defendant’s will to resist has been eroded by the voluntary consumption of drink or drugs or both is not relevant to this test.”  In my opinion, what Lord Lane C.J. said in the present case and in Graham was entirely correct. In my opinion, this question also falls to be answered “yes.”  I, therefore, consider that these appeals should be dismissed, the first certified question answered in the negative and the second and third in the affirmative.” Pg459