R v Cole [1994] Crim. L.R. 582

Defence of “duress of circumstances” requiring a direct and immediate threat


The appellant (C) was convicted of two robberies. He claimed the defence of duress on the basis that he was “desperate” for money as he owed money to moneylenders who had made threats to him, his girlfriend and his child.


The trial judge ruled that the duress defence was inapplicable because it is only available to a defendant if the threats which are uttered are directed to the commission by the defendant of the particular offence with which he is charged. C was not threatened with unpleasant consequences if he did not commit the robberies in question. Rather, the threat to him related to his debts to the moneylenders. Accordingly, he could not rely on the defence. C appealed on the basis that the trial judge had taken too restricted a view of the defence of duress.


The Court of Appeal dismissed the appeal. It drew a distinction between duress by threats and duress of circumstances (i.e. necessity). For the reasons outlined by the trial judge, the defence of duress by threats did not apply to C. In order to rely on the defence of duress of circumstances there should be a strong degree of directness and immediacy in terms of the link between the suggested peril and the criminal offence committed. Due to the lack of imminent peril in C’s case the Court dismissed the appeal. The Court declined to expand the ambit of the defence of duress until all aspects of the defence had been put on a statutory footing.

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