Brief of R. v. Charlson

Brief of R. v. Charlson by Legum

R. v. Charlson [1955] 1 All ER 859

Material Facts:

The defendant attacked his 10-year-old son on the head with a mallet and flung him out of the window into a river. He was arrested by the police, and he admitted that he caused the injury to the child, but also submitted that he did not know why he did so. He was charged with three counts of causing grievous harm to the boy. The evidence suggested that the defendant may be suffering from a cerebral tumour, which may subject him to a motiveless outburst of impulse violence over which he would have no control.


Whether the accused knew what he was doing when he struck those blows at the boy


The accused did not know what he was doing when he struck those blows at the boy.

Ratio Decidendi:

Barry J. explained to the jury that if the accused struck the boy with the mallet, knowing what he was doing, and by those blows caused the injuries, then he is guilty …. If he did not know what he was doing, if his actions were purely automatic and his mind had no control over the movements of his limbs, if he was in the same position as a person in an epileptic fit then no responsibility rests upon him at all, and the proper verdict is ' Not guilty ' of all the three charges.

According to the above direction, the accused was found not guilty as he was believed to not have control over the movement of his limbs during what was possibly an epileptic fit (automatism).

Directions of Barry J to the Jury:

These are charges of criminal offences …. In order to commit them , the prisoner must have had a guilty mind. For example , an act which otherwise might be an assault would not be assault if it were done accidentally. In a public street one might suddenly put one’s hand up to stop one’s hat being blown off , and might hit a passer-by on the nose without one’s knowing he was there….. If it is purely accidental , no assault is committed , for the element of consciousness is not present. Similarly , in the case of certain diseases , a person suffering from disease may be deprived of the control of his actions. A man in the throes of an epileptic fit does not know what he is doing…