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R v. Golds - (30 Nov 2016)

There must be weighty reason for reduction of degree of offence from murder to lesser offence of manslaughter


Appellant was convicted by a jury of murder of his partner. Appellant admitted in Court that he had killed deceased, and sole issue at his trial had been whether he had made out partial defence of diminished responsibility, and so fell to be convicted of manslaughter rather than of murder. Trial judge told the jury that he was not going to give them specific guidance on meaning of the everyday word “substantially”, unless it created difficulty and they requested assistance. Appellant appealed against his conviction. Court of Appeal dismissed his appeal. Mr Golds appealed to the Supreme Court.

Ordinarily, in a murder trial where diminished responsibility is an issue, judge is not ordinarily required to direct the jury beyond the terms of the statute, and should not attempt to define the meaning of “substantially”. However, if there is a risk that the jury will misunderstand the meaning of substantial, then a direction is required. Whether this risk arises is a matter for the judge. This may be the case where the jury has been introduced to the question of whether any impairment beyond the trivial will suffice, or has been introduced to the concept of a spectrum between greater than trivial and total. The judge must direct that while impairment must be more than merely trivial to be substantial, it is not the case that any impairment that is more than trivial will suffice.

There must be a weighty reason for a reduction from murder to the lesser offence of manslaughter, and not merely a reason which just passes the trivial. Expression “substantially impaired” has been consistently treated as a question of degree, and one that should be left to the jury. Where triviality was mentioned, as in R v Lloyd [1967] 1 QB 175, it was in the context of a direction to the jury that “substantial impairment” fell between two extremities: more than merely trivial, but less than total. There was no intention to direct that any impairment beyond trivial sufficed, or that the reference to the extremities of possible impairment should provide a definition of substantial impairment. Beyond the merely trivial, what amounted to a substantial impairment was a matter of degree for the jury. There is usually no need for jury to be directed on meaning of ordinary words: any attempt to find synonyms or re-define such words complicates the jury’s task and leads to further debate.

In instant case, renewal of attack despite the warning presence of children and removal of first knife might perhaps be some indicator of self-control and give some support to contention that, cause was simple anger rather than distorted thinking. If the appellant was indeed in the grip of a psychotic episode involving persecutory delusions when he killed his partner, that would, by any ordinary standard, involve substantial impairment of one or more of statutory abilities.


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