R v Gotts (Benjamin) [1992] 2 AC 412

Criminal law – Duress - Murder


Gotts, a sixteen-year-old boy, tried to kill his mother as he claimed that his father had threatened to shoot him unless he did so. Gotts stabbed his mother and caused serious injuries from which she survived. Gotts was charged with attempted murder. The trial judge ruled that the defence of duress was not available to him on a charge of attempted murder and instructed the jury to not consider this matter. Following this, Gotts changed his plea to guilty and appealed the conviction on the basis of the judge's jury direction.


The key legal issue in this case was whether the defence of duress was available to Gotts on the basis that he was charged with attempted murder. The court would be required to analyse the common law and relevant pieces of legislation to understand in which circumstances the defence of duress applied.


Gotts’ appeal was dismissed. The court recognised that there was no English authority which dealt directly with duress under a charge of attempted murder. However, the court followed R v Howe & Bannister (1987) which maintained that the defence of duress would not be available. This was based on the fact that that the law regarded the sanctity of life and felt its protection was of paramount importance. On this basis, it would be difficult to reconcile attempted murder (where the accused has an intention to kill), with murder where a punishable mens rea would suffice if the individual had the intent to cause serious injury.