Defendant appealing against conviction – Whether insanely held delusion on part of defendant being attacked or threatened causing him to respond violently entitling him to acquittal on basis of reasonable self-defence

R v Oye: Court of Appeal, Criminal Division: 11 October 2013

In June 2011, the defendant was found in the staff room of a coffee shop. He was not an employee there. The police were called. When they arrived, the defendant tried to hide in a void in the ceiling, before throwing some crockery at them, causing very minor injury to one officer. In refusing requests to come down, he gave as a reason, ‘because I’m selfish’, in addition to stating that he was reading a book.

Eventually, the defendant came down, aiming a fire extinguisher at one of the police officers. He was arrested and taken to the police station. A medical examination indicated a negative result for the presence of any drugs or alcohol, although a stated history of cannabis use was recorded. No medical or mental health issues were at that stage identified. Observation by CCTV in the cell demonstrated the defendant on occasion drinking from the lavatory cistern as well as gesticulating and talking to himself. He was interviewed the following morning, during the course of which he said that he did ‘not feel okay’.

He was returned to his cell where he continued to behave strangely. The defendant was later seen in his cell by a specialist drugs worker, G. As he did not feel comfortable alone in the cell with the defendant, G stopped the assessment and asked the defendant to sit on a bench outside the custody suite. As was captured on CCTV, the defendant sought to move towards the exit of the custody suite. A police officer calmly approached him and the defendant then punched him in the face, knocking him to the ground. He also punched a female police officer hard in the face, displacing her teeth and fracturing her jaw.

Other officers converged on the defendant, who was very violent, lashing out at whoever came near him. One police officer was punched twice and another officer was scratched and gouged. After the defendant was overpowered and returned to his cell, observation continued to show him behaving very strangely. The defendant was sectioned under mental health legislation and was committed to hospital. His defence statement, which did not entirely reflect his evidence at trial, pleaded insanity; he had woken up on the morning in question feeling paranoid and had felt that he was being watched and pursued by evil spirits.

Good spirits had guided him to the coffee shop, where he had believed that the police were agents of the evil spirits and had thought that they would harm him if he came down. At the police station, he had felt that he had supernatural powers and that he could escape. He had thought that the police who had come towards him were evil and had started defending himself. There was no mention in the defence statement of self-defence. However, he was permitted to introduce that as an issue at trial. The expert psychiatric evidence, which was unchallenged by the prosecution, was to the effect that the defendant had been insane at the time of the offences.

It was conceded by the prosecution that, at the time of the incidents, the defendant had genuinely believed, by reason of his insane delusions, that he was being confronted by evil spirits intent on harming him. Further, that the first limb of the conventional self-defence direction was satisfied. Accordingly, the only case positively advanced by the prosecution before the jury was that the force used by the defendant had been unreasonable. The judge provided the jury with written routes to verdict documents in addition, amongst other things, to directions on self-defence and insanity. The defendant was subsequently convicted of two counts of affray and one count of inflicting grievous bodily harm and was sentenced to a total of 18 months’ imprisonment. He appealed against his conviction.

He submitted, amongst other things, that the judge’s direction on self-defence was inadequate and insufficiently tailored to the case (the direction submission). The convictions were unsafe given the undisputed psychiatric evidence of insanity, from which there could be no rational or proper basis for the jury to depart. The principal issue for determination was whether an insanely held delusion on the part of the defendant that he was being attacked or threatened, causing him violently to respond, entitled him to an acquittal on the basis of reasonable self-defence.

The defendant submitted that, in the circumstances as he had believed them to be, the prosecution could not, on the evidence, prove that the degree of force had been unreasonable or disproportionate in those circumstances. That his belief as to those circumstances had derived from his insane delusion was immaterial. Consideration was given, amongst other things, to s 76 of the Criminal Justice and Immigration Act 2008 (the 2008 act), section 6 of the Criminal Appeal Act 1968 and the two-limbed defence of self-defence at common law.

The court ruled: As was plain from the provisions of section 76 of the 2008 act, the position remained that the second limb of the defence of self-defence included an objective element by reference to reasonableness, even if there might also be a subjective element. An insane person could not set the standards of reasonableness as to the degree of force used by reference to his own insanity.

The position still required objective assessment by reference to the circumstances as a defendant believed them to be. In any event, there were wider considerations to be borne in mind. It was the case that it had for some time been settled by authority, prior to the 2008 act, that in self-defence cases the psychiatric characteristics of an accused could not be brought into account on the issue of whether the degree of force used was reasonable in the circumstances (see [47], [48], [50] of the judgment).

The defendant’s principal grounds would be rejected. Whatever the purist force in the defendant’s argument, there were strong policy objections to the approach. If right, it could mean that the public was exposed to possible further violence from an individual with a propensity for suffering insane delusions without any intervening preventative remedies being available to the courts in the form of hospital or supervision orders. It was not right.

With regard to the direction submission, having regard to the course of the trial and taking the summing-up as a whole, and the emphasis given in the routes to verdict documents as to the genuine belief of the defendant, that point would not of itself render the convictions unsafe. However, whilst it could be said that the question of insanity had been a jury matter, the court had the greatest unease at the verdicts reached. The judge, within the proper confines of judicial discretion, had himself given the jury repeated ‘steers’ on the unchallenged psychiatric evidence as to insanity.

Further, the prosecution had itself conducted the trial accepting that the defendant had been suffering from insane delusions at the time of the incident. Given all that and the way that the trial had been conducted, there was no safe or rational basis for departing from the unchallenged psychiatric evidence or the prosecution’s acceptance of it. The court ought to interfere; it had power to substitute special verdicts pursuant to section 6 of the Criminal Appeal Act 1968 (see [45], [46], [49], [60], [62], [63] of the judgment).

The proper verdicts on each of the three counts would have been one of not guilty by reason of insanity. Such verdicts would be substituted accordingly and the court would order a conditional discharge (see [64] of the judgment).

M’Naghten’s Case [1843-60] All ER Rep 229 explained; R v Keane; R v McGrath [2010] All ER (D) 185 (Oct) applied; Palmer v R [1971] 1 All ER 1077 considered; R v Oatridge 94 Cr App Rep 367 considered.

Oluwajemin Akin-Olugbade (instructed by Prime Solicitors) for the defendant. Eve Macatonia (instructed by the Crown Prosecution Service) for the Crown.