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R v Gotts

[1992] 2 AC 412

Case summary last updated at 13/01/2020 14:24 by the Oxbridge Notes in-house law team.

Judgement for the case R v Gotts

D attempted to murder V and was not allowed to rely upon duress by the judge. Upon appeal the HL said that, in the absence of statute or common law guidance they would decide whether or not to allow duress as a defence to attempted murder on a policy basis. By a majority of 3-2 HL said it was NOT a defence to attempted murder, because the law regarded the sanctity of human life and its protection as being of paramount importance. Lord Jauncey says there is no logic in allowing duress to cover attempted murder but not murder: suppose A stabs B intending to kill him but B is found and saved, as opposed to where A stabs B intending mere GBH but inflicts an identical wound and B is not saved. Such a distinction as to the application of the defence would leave too much to moral luck. “A man who shoots and misses by hair’s breadth is no less culpable than a man who shoots and kills”. 
Lord Keith, dissenting, says that (1) murder is a crime judged in a category of its own (as demonstrated by the mandatory life sentence), separate from attempted murder. (2) the argument that D who shoots and kill and D who shoots and merely injures are equally morally wrong is a bad argument, since neither person, in a case of duress, has an “evil” intent: they are simply being forced to do it (This overlooks the principle that someone should be willing to sacrifice himself rather than take another’s life, and where one breaches this principle it is appropriate that he be punished. Even in cases of mere “attempted” murder, D is breaching the principle, despite failing to this end- principle can be derived from Howe). 

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