Culpability, Kingston and the Law Commission

Catherine Crosby

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This article considers the basis upon which a person should be held to be criminally liable, and to do so, it is necessary to examine the leading theories of character and choice that underpin the State holding a person to be culpable of a criminal offence, i.e. the link between culpability and fault. The case of R v Kingston1 is used to examine the application of these leading theories and it is observed that choice theorists would not excuse such a defendant from criminal liability even though his capacity to make a choice to refrain from law breaking was made extremely difficult by external factors beyond his control. Only character theory could possibly offer exculpation in such circumstances on the basis that the defendant acted ‘out of character’ and his deed did not deserve the full censure and punishment of the criminal law. The Court of Appeal in R v Kingston would have been prepared to excuse, but the House of Lords, and most recently the Law Commission have adopted a pragmatic approach to the involuntarily intoxicated offender. This case serves as a reminder that while justice is the aim of the criminal justice system, it is not an absolute standard.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)434-471
JournalThe Journal of Criminal Law
Issue number5
Publication statusPublished - 1 Oct 2010

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