Automatism
Automatism

The following Corporate Crime practice note provides comprehensive and up to date legal information covering:

  • Automatism
  • Definition of automatism
  • Limitations on the defence of automatism
  • Automatism caused by a disease of the mind
  • Automatism caused by self-induced intoxication
  • Automatism caused by factors other than drink or drugs
  • Partial destruction of self control
  • Burden of proof
  • Leaving automatism for the jury
  • Verdict

Definition of automatism

An act is done in a state of automatism if it is done by the body without control by the mind, (eg it is a spasm or a reflex), or if it is done by a person who is not conscious of what they are doing.

The act may be described as involuntary, but will not be regarded as such simply because the defendant does not remember it or could not resist the impulse to do it.

A person may avoid liability for a criminal act performed in a state of automatism, such as causing harm to someone during a mental blackout, as the conduct in question is involuntary. This is because involuntary movements or actions cannot ordinarily constitute the actus reus of an offence, or even a strict liability offence.

Limitations on the defence of automatism

The defence of automatism is limited in the following circumstances:

  1. where automatism is caused by a disease of the mind

  2. where automatism is caused by self-induced intoxication

  3. where automatism is caused by a self-induced incapacity, other than intoxication due to drink or drugs, (eg a failure to eat while taking insulin), or

  4. where there is only a partial destruction of voluntary control on the de

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