R v Howe [1987] AC 417;

[1987] 2 WLR 568; [1987] 1 All ER 771; (1987) 85 Cr App R 32; (1987) 151 JP 265; [1987] Crim LR 480



In the first case, the two appellants, Howe and Bannister, and the victim were driven by M to an isolated area, where they assaulted the victim and M killed him. Similarly, the three jointly strangled another victim and a third victim managed to escape. They were charged with murder on two counts and with a conspiracy of murder on one count. Howe and Bannister claimed that they committed the crimes because they feared for their own lives if they did not do as M directed. They were convicted on the three counts.

In the second case, the two appellants, Burke and Clarkson, were charged with murder of a man killed by Burke. Burke argued that he agreed to kill the victim out of fear that Clarkson would kill him, but the gun went off accidentally. The judge directed the jury that Burke could not rely on duress in relation to the charge of murder, but left it to the jury to determine whether the issue of duress meant that Burke’s act was unintentional and therefore, the offence was manslaughter. Both Burke and Clarkson were convicted of murder.


(1) Is duress available as a defence to a charge of murder?

(2) Is the conviction of murder of a person exercising duress maintainable if the person under duress is convicted of manslaughter?


(1) Duress is not a defence to a charge of murder, whether the accused acted to protect his own life or the life of his family. Accordingly, the defence is not available to the person who killed the victim or those who participated in the murder as principals in the second degree.

(2) If the person under duress is convicted of manslaughter, the person exercising duress can be convicted of murder regardless of this fact.