September 30, 2022

English Authorities on Drunkenness and Mens Rea

It is obvious fact that principles of Indian Criminal law are mostly inspired by the principles propounded by English Courts. However, in cases, Indian Courts took the different conditions of India in attention while deciding the case but mostly inspired from the decisions of English courts in its earlier phase and even at present time, English cases are considered by Indian courts while deciding the complex factors in any case.

We are mentioning here some cases that had a considerable effect on the decisions of Indian courts.

English Cases on Drunkenness and Mens Rea

Rex v. Meakin

In the old English case, Rex v. Meakin[1] Baron Alderson referred to the nature of the instrument as an element to be taken in presuming the intention in these words:

“However, with regard to the intention, drunkenness may perhaps be adverted to according to the nature of the instrument used. If a man uses a stick, you would not infer a malicious intent so strongly against him, if drunk, when he made an intemperate use of it, as he would if he had used a different kind of weapon;

but where a dangerous instrument is used, which, if used, must produce grievous bodily harm, drunkenness can have no effect on the consideration of the malicious intent of the party.”

Regina v. Cruse

In a charge of murdering a child levelled against a husband and wife who were both drunk at the time, Patterson J., observed in [2]Regina v. Cruse and Mary his wife

 “It appears that both these persons were drunk, and although drunkenness is no excuse for any crime whatever, yet it is often of very great importance in cases where it is a question of intention. A person may be so drunk as to be utterly unable to form any intention at all, and yet he may be guilty of very great violence.”

Reg. v. Monkhouse

Slightly different words but somewhat more illuminating were used by Coleridge J., in Reg. v. Monkhouse,[3]

“The inquiry as to intent is far less simple than that as to whether an act has been committed, because you cannot look into a man’s mind to see what was passing there at any given time. What he intends can only be judged of by what he does or says, and if he says nothing, then his act alone must guide you to your decision.

Drunkenness is ordinarily neither a defence nor excuse for crime, and where it is available as a partial answer to a charge, it rests on the prisoner to prove it, and it is not enough that he was excited or rendered more irritable, unless the intoxication was such as to prevent his restraining himself from committing the act in question, or to take away from him the power of forming any specific intention. Such a state of drunkenness may no doubt exist”

Rex v. Meade[4]

In the case, the question was whether there was any misdirection in his summing, up by Lord Coleridge, J. The summing up was in these words:

“In the first place, everyone is presumed to know the consequences of his acts. If he be insane, that knowledge is not presumed. Insanity is not pleaded here, but where it is part of the essence of a crime that a motive, a particular motive, shall exist in the mind of the man who does the act, the law declares this-that if the mind at that time is so obscured by drink, if the reason is dethroned and the man is incapable therefore of forming that intent, it justifies the reduction of the charge from murder to manslaughter”.

Darling, J., delivering the judgment of the Court of Criminal Appeal affirmed the correctness of the summing up but stated the rule in his own words as follows:

“A man is taken to intend the natural consequences of his acts. This presumption may be rebutted in the case of a sober man, in many, it may also be rebutted in the case of a man who is drunk, by shewing his mind to have been so affected by the drink he had taken that he was incapable of knowing that what he was doing was dangerous, i.e., likely to inflict serious injury. If this be proved, the presumption that he intended to do grievous bodily harm is rebutted”.

Director of Public Prosecutions V. Beard

Further, In House of Lord’s case, Director of Public Prosecutions v. Beard[5] a prisoner ravished a girl of 13 years of age, and in aid of the act of rape he placed his hand upon her mouth to stop her from screaming, at the same time pressing his thumb upon her throat with the result that she died of suffocation. Drunkenness was pleaded as a defence.

Bailhache J. directed the jury that the defence of drunkenness could only prevail if the accused by reason of it did not know what he was doing or did not know that he was doing wrong. The jury brought in a verdict of murder and the man was sentenced to death.

The Court of Criminal Appeal (Earl of Reading C.J., Lord Coleridge J., and Sankey, J.) quashed this conviction on the ground of misdirection following Rex v. Meade which established that the presumption that a man intended the natural consequences of his acts might be rebutted in the case of drunkenness by showing that his mind was so affected by the drink that he had taken that he was incapable of knowing that what he was doing was dangerous. The conviction was, therefore, reduced to manslaughter.

The Crown preferred the appeal to the House of Lords and it was heard by a strong Bench consisting of Lord Chancellor, Lord Birkenhead, Earl of Reading, C.J., Viscount Haldane, Lord Denedin, Lord Atkinson, Lord Sumner, Lord Buckmaster, and Lord Phillimore.

The Lord Chancellor delivered the judgment of the court. He examined the earlier authorities in a lengthy judgment and reached the conclusion that Rex v. Meade(supra) stated the law rather too broadly, though on the facts there proved the decision was right.

The position “that a person charged with a crime of violence may show, in order to rebut the presumption that he intended the natural consequences of his acts, that he was so drunk that he was incapable of knowing what he was doing was dangerous……………………………. which is what is said in Meade’s case, was not correct as a general proposition of law and their Lordships laid down three rules:

(1) That insanity, whether produced by drunkenness or otherwise, is a defence to the crime charged;

(2) That evidence of drunkenness which renders the accused incapable of forming the specific intent essential to constitute the crime should be taken into consideration with the other facts proved in order to determine whether or not he had this intent;

(3)That evidence of drunkenness falling short of a proved incapacity in the accused to form the intent necessary to constitute the crime, and merely establishing that his mind was affected by drink so that he more readily gave way to some violent passion, does not rebut the presumption that a man intends the natural consequences of his acts.

The result of the authorities is summarised neatly and compendiously at page 63 of Russel on Crime, tenth edition, in the following words:

“There is a distinction, however, between the defence of insanity in the true sense caused by excessive drunkenness and the defence of drunkenness which produces a condition such that the drunken man’s mind becomes incapable of forming a specific intention. If actual insanity in fact supervenes as the result of alcoholic excess, it furnishes as complete an answer to a criminal charge as insanity induced by any other cause.

But in cases falling short of insanity evidence of drunkenness which renders the accused incapable of forming the specific intent essential to constitute the crime should be taken into consideration with the other facts proved in order to determine whether or not he had this intent, but evidence of drunkenness which falls short of proving such incapacity and merely establishes that the mind of the accused was so affected by drink that he more readily gave way to some violent passion does not rebut the presumption that a man intends the natural consequences of his act”.

REFERENCE

Basdev vs The State Of Pepsu, 1956 AIR 488, 1956 SCR 363


[1] [1836] 173 E.R. 131; 7 Car. & P. 295

[2] [1838] 173 E.R. 610; 8 Car. & P. 541

[3] [1849] 4 Cox. C.C. 55

[4] [1909] 1 K.B. 895,

[5] [1920] A.C. 479.