A-G v Whelan [1993] IEHC 1

Criminal - Stolen goods - Whether Duress is a complete defence


Mr Whelan was convicted of handling stolen goods. It was found that he had acted under a threat of death or immediate violence. He appealed the conviction, holding that his defence of duress should have led to an acquittal. 


Whether the defence of duress is a complete defence to a crime.


On allowing the appeal, Murnaghan J held that an immediate threat of violence or death that is so significant any reasonable person would have committed the unlawful acts they were being compelled to do, was justification for the acts that would otherwise be deemed criminal. It was also required to be proven that a defendant’s will had been overpowered at the time the crime was committed. Limits on the defence of duress were defined in that, if a murder was committed under even the most serious of duress, it would not be a justification. Taking a life to save one’s own or another was not considered to be covered by the defence of duress, as murder was said to be a crime too heinous. It was found that Whelan had been subjected to an immediate threat of violence and his crime was receiving stolen goods. It was not a crime as serious as murder. Further, at the time of the act, Whelan had no opportunity to reassert his will because the threat occurred so close to the commission of the act. Therefore, he could rely on the defence of duress. The conviction was quashed.