Drunkenness as a defence

Advisers to the Government recommended yesterday that the law be changed to make it clearer when drunkenness can be used as part of a defence to criminal offences.

The Law Commission said: "The area of law examined in this report is of enormous significance. Quite apart from the contemporary importance of crimes committed under the influence of alcohol, the subject is of increasing practical importance, with the availability of hallucinogenic drugs whose ingestion in very small quantities can lead to behaviour which is bizarre, unpredictable and violent."

As the law stands, intoxication can be used as a defence to crimes where the prosecution has to prove intention, including murder or deliberately causing grievous bodily harm. In other offences, such as manslaughter, actual bodily harm and rape, intoxication generally cannot be used as a defence. It is held that if the defendant would have known the crime was a crime when he was sober, being drunk would not be a justification. If the defendant has been intoxicated against his will, or unknowingly, it can be part of a defence to any offence.

The Law Commission argues that the law, based on cases and interpretations, is obscure and confusing. It does not recommend changing the basic principles of using intoxication as a defence, but includes in its report a draft Bill which the Home Office could enact to make the law more straightforward.

The proposals would not affect the offence of driving while intoxicated, but would have a bearing on offences committed under the influence of drink or drugs, such as deliberately or recklessly causing injury while driving.

Recommendations of the Law Commission are enacted at the discretion of the Government.

n `Intoxication and Criminal Liability', HMSO, £14.95

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