The defence of duress requires establishment of a reasonable belief. In judging the accused’s response the test is: ‘have the prosecution made the jury sure that a sober person of reasonable firmness, sharing the characteristics of the defendant, would not have responded to whatever he reasonably believed [the threatener] said or did by taking part in the offence.’
Lord Lane CJ said: ‘As a matter of public policy, it seems to us essential to limit the defence of duress by means of an objective criterion formulated in terms of reasonableness. Consistency of approach in defences to criminal liability is obviously desirable. Provocation and duress are analogous. In provocation the words or actions of one person break the self-control of another. In duress the words or actions of one person break the will of another. The law requires a defendant to have the self-control reasonably to be expected of the ordinary citizen in his situation. It should likewise require him to have the steadfastness reasonably to be expected of the ordinary-citizen in his situation. So too with self-defence, in which the law permits the use of no more force than is reasonable in the circumstances. And, in general, if a mistake is to excuse what would otherwise be criminal, the mistake must be a reasonable one. It follows that we accept counsel for the Crown’s submission that the direction in this case was too favourable to the appellant. The Crown having conceded that the issue of duress is open to the appellant and was raised on the evidence, the correct approach on the facts of this case would have been as follows: (1) Was the defendant, or may he have been, impelled to act as he did because, as a result of what he reasonably believed [another] had said or done, he had good cause to fear that if he did not so act [that other] would kill him, or (if this is to be added) cause him serious physical injury? (2) If so have the prosecution made the jury sure that a sober person of reasonable firmness, sharing the characteristics of this defendant, would not have responded to whatever he reasonably believed [that other] said or did by taking part in the killing? The fact that a defendant’s will to resist had been eroded by the voluntary consumption of drink or drugs or both is not relevant to that test.’
Lord Lane CJ, Taylor and McCullough JJ
 1 WLR 294,  EWCA Crim 5, (1982) 74 Cr App R 235,  1 All ER 801
England and Wales
Approved – Regina v Howe etc HL 19-Feb-1986
The defendants appealed against their convictions for murder, saying that their defences of duress had been wrongly disallowed.
Held: Duress is not a defence available on a charge of murder. When a defence of duress is raised, the test is . .
Cited – Regina v G and R HL 16-Oct-2003
The defendants, young boys, had set fire to paper and thrown the lit papers into a wheelie bin, expecting the fire to go out. In fact substantial damage was caused. The House was asked whether a conviction was proper under the section where the . .
Approved – Regina v Martin (Colin) CACD 29-Nov-1988
Defence of Necessity has a Place in Criminal Law
The defendant appealed against his conviction for driving whilst disqualified. He said he had felt obliged to drive his stepson to work because his stepson had overslept. His wife (who had suicidal tendencies) had been threatening suicide unless he . .
Cited – Hasan, 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 . .
Cited – Regina v Conway CACD 28-Jul-1988
The defendant appealed against his conviction for reckless driving. He said the offence was committed out of necessity, since his passenger’s life was under threat.
Held: Necessity can only be a defence to a charge of reckless driving where . .
Lists of cited by and citing cases may be incomplete.
Updated: 08 June 2022; Ref: scu.186844