DPP for Northern Ireland v Lynch [1975] AC 653

Duress as a defence to a charge of aiding and abetting murder


On the 29th January 1972, the appellant was instructed by members of the IRA to drive them to a specific location in Belfast. One of the men in the car, who went by the name Meehan, was known to the appellant by reputation, which lead the appellant to believe that failure to comply would result in his murder. The care he drove included three armed and masked men. Eventually, the IRA members killed a police constable by the name of Raymond Norman Carrol. The appellant was charged with aiding and abetting the killing of Mr Carrol (as a principal of the second degree) and was, at trial, sentenced to life imprisonment. Both at trial and on appeal to the court of appeal, the appellant argued duress, as evidence was presented that he was not an IRA member and he feared for his life if he did not comply. This was, however, rejected both at trial and by the Court of Criminal Appeal of Northern Ireland.


The issue in this case was whether the defence of duress was available in the case of a charge of aiding and abetting murder, contrary to the opinion of the trial judge and the Court of Criminal Appeal of Northern Ireland.


The House of Lords allowed the appeal. The court’s decision was underpinned by the need for the law to maintain its link to common sense to remain humane. The majority was mindful of the fact that some allowance must be made for the instinct of self – preservation and likened applying duress in such a case as to a case of self-defence. The court was also mindful of the fact that, at least in the present case, at the time when the appellant decided to acquiesce to drive the IRA members, he was acting to save his life without being certain that this would lead to the death of another. It was noted however that the graver the crime for which the defence of duress is sought, the more serious and the irresistible the threat must be for the defence to have effect.