DPP v A (2000) 164 JP 317

The availability of the defence of duress.


The defendant wished to raise the defence of duress to a charge of robbery on the basis that two strangers had threatened to kill him if he refused to rob an identified victim. As a preliminary point of law, the Justices considered the availability of the defence after hearing from the defendant and the reading the police statements and interviews and considered that the defence could not be sustained. The defendant subsequently changed his plea to guilty.


The matter was appealed to the Divisional Court by way of case stated. The court was asked to consider whether the Justices had correctly addressed the steps necessary to allow the defence of duress to be made.


(1) The Justices had not properly understood their role in allowing the defence of duress to be raised. The justices should not have considered the matter at a voir dire as this was not a procedure open to Justices. However, there was no particular rule addressing whether Justices were able to hear preliminary points. (2) The justices had failed to fully understand the nature of the preliminary point and had failed to separate the merits of the defence from whether a prima facie defence was made out. The Justices had also erred in their analysis of the extent of the threats made. The result was that the defendant was denied a full hearing. The role of the Justices as a preliminary point was to consider whether the defence of duress was available. It was not to consider the merits of the defence. If the former was satisfied, the latter should only follow a full hearing.