Attorney-General v Whelan: 20 Dec 1933

(Court of Criminal Appeal – Ireland) The appellant had been tried as part of a conspiracy to steal and to receive stolen good. He was acquitted of the conspiracy, but now appealed against his conviction for theft despite his assertion that he acted only under coercion.
Held: He was acquitted: ‘ It seems to us that threats of immediate death or serious personal violence so great as to overbear the ordinary power of human resistance should be accepted as a justification for acts which would otherwise be criminal. The application of this general rule must however be subject to certain limitations. The commission of murder is a crime so heinous that murder should not be committed even for the price of life and in such a case the strongest duress would not be any justification. We have not to determine what class of crime other than murder should be placed in the same category. We are, however, satisfied that any such consideration does not apply in the case of receiving. Where the excuse of duress is applicable it must further be clearly shown that the overpowering of the will was operative at time the crime was actually committed, and, if there were reasonable opportunity for the will to reassert itself, no justification can be found in antecedent threats. ‘

Murnaghan J
[1934] IR 518, [1933] IEHC 1
England and Wales
CitedOldcastle’s Case 1419
In a case of treason immediate fear of death can be a justification. . .
CitedAlexander MacGrowther’s Case 1746
In the rule that necessity might be a defence to a criminal charge, the distinction was drawn between threats directed against the person and threats upon property. ‘The only force that doth excuse is a force upon the person, and present fear of . .
CitedRex v Stratton 1779
It was just possible to imagine cases in which the expediency of breaking the law was so overwhelming that people might be justified in breaking it. The rule could be extended to cases of treason upon a general principle that it could to be extended . .

Cited by:
CitedHasan, Regina v HL 17-Mar-2005
The House was asked two questions: the meaning of ‘confession’ for the purposes of section 76(1) of the 1984 Act, and as to the defence of duress. The defendant had been involved in burglary, being told his family would be harmed if he refused. The . .

Lists of cited by and citing cases may be incomplete.


Updated: 25 November 2021; Ref: scu.223665