Attorney General for Northern Ireland v Gallagher [1963] AC 349

Criminal - murder - relevance of intoxication - defence of insanity and intoxication


Patrick Gallagher was convicted of murdering his wife. It was also known that he was a psychopath.


Whether Gallagher was insane at the time of killing or was incapable of forming an intent necessary to constitute murder as he was drunk. Secondly, whether the M’Naughten test had been correctly applied.


The court held that there had been no misdirection by the trial judge. Lord Denning reaffirmed the law on drunkenness as a defence to crime. Lord Denning applied the test from DPP v Beard [1920] A.C. 479, in that, if Gallagher was found to be so drunk that he did not know what he was doing, no intent to murder is formed. Beard was distinguished as Gallagher was aware of what he was doing and had formed an intent to kill his wife, remembering he had done so afterwards. The second part of the test was that if Gallagher’s drinking had bought about a distinct disease of the mind, such that he is temporarily insane within the application of M’Naughten’s Rules (the insanity test) and that he did not know what he was doing or what he was doing was wrong, then Gallagher could rely on the defence of insanity. Lord Denning found that alcohol had not caused him a ‘disease of the mind’. Even though he was a psychopath, this was not brought on by drink. Gallagher was found to have committed murder as there was clear evidence of premeditation. The fact that he got drunk before the act and was drunk when committing it was only to provide him with a little ‘dutch courage’ required to commit murder. The appeal was allowed and the conviction of murder was restored.