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R v Campbell [1987] 84 Cr App R 255

The appellant killed a female hitch hiker he had picked up when she refused his sexual advances towards her. She wanted to go to Oxford from London. He picked her up in his car on his way home from a hockey match. He pulled up in a remote spot and made a pass at her. She hit him in the eye and he punched her in the throat. She began gurgling and blood came from her mouth. Realising the force at which he must have struck her he panicked and began to strangle her. He eventually killed her by hitting her with his hockey stick around the throat. The appellant had frontal lobe damage and epilepsy. At his trial he raised the defence of provocation which was rejected by the jury and he was convicted of murder. The defence of diminished responsibility was not advanced at trial as medical opinion was that his abnormality of the mind had not substantially impaired his mental responsibility due to his ability to recall events lucidly and the length of time of the sustained attack.

He later appealed on the grounds of diminished responsibility advancing medical opinion that the effect of his epilepsy and frontal lobe damage was to affect his functions of judgment, control of the emotions, control of impulses, and forward planning. The appellant had suffered from absence seizures, lasting for anything from a few seconds to about half a minute, almost continuously. Such seizures lead to a change in the intellect and a reduction of the appellant's ability to appreciate the circumstances surrounding him and to process information. While there will be gaps between these seizures, the appellant would have had a very imperfect understanding of what was happening around him while he is subject to one of them. The effect of the electrical discharges of the brain which occur during such seizures is to interrupt conscious thought processes and affect emotional control in a profound way. Having studied the available evidence of what the appellant did and said at the time, both doctors were of the clear opinion that at the time of the killing the appellant had been suffering an abnormality of mind of such significance as seriously to diminish his responsibility for the act that he carried out.

Held:

The appellant's conviction for murder was quashed and a retrial ordered. The evidence was admissible as the defence had not been advanced at trial due to a lack in medical knowledge rather than for tactical reasons.

Back to lecture outline on Diminished Responsibility