R v Sharp (David Bruce) [1987] Q.B. 853

Criminal law – Duress – Armed robbery


Sharp joined a gang of robbers that he knew possessed and used firearms. He participated in a robbery of a post office, in which the leader of the gang shot and killed a victim using a sawn-off shotgun. Sharp claimed in his trial that he was simply a ‘bagman’ and thought the ammunition that was loaded into the guns were blank. Sharp also attempted to employ the defence of duress as he wished to pull out of the robbery but had continued his participation as the gang leader had pointed a gun at his head and threatened to shoot him if he did not continue. The trial judge rejected this submission and Sharp was convicted of manslaughter and was sentenced to a long imprisonment sentence.


Sharp’s appeal was based on the belief that the trial judge was incorrect when rejecting the defence of duress under the circumstances and subsequently withdrawing the issue from the jury. A key legal issue in this case was whether or not the judge’s direction was correct and whether or not Sharp could rely on the defence of duress under the circumstances of the case.


The court held that the defence of duress is not available to an individual who voluntarily joins a criminal gang or organisation, particularly if he knew that he might be pressured to commit an offence. Sharp knew the nature of the gang before he became a member and therefore he knew that such pressure might exist. As a result of this, it was held that the trial judge was correct to reject the appellant’s submission and therefore Sharp’s appeal was dismissed.