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R v Sullivan [1984] AC 156

R v Sullivan [1984] AC 156

Epilepsy and the defences of insanity and automatism after M’Naghten


The defendant, who had psychomotor epilepsy, had a seizure during which he kicked the victim in the head with great force. He was charged with causing serious bodily harm but pleaded not guilty. After consulting with a lawyer, he instead pleaded guilty to causing actual bodily harm and was convicted. At trial, evidence was presented that the defendant did not remember the incident and two medical experts testified that it was likely that the attack occurred during the postictal stage of the seizure, when a person makes automatic movements without being aware of them. The trial judge ruled that the appropriate defense was insanity, not automatism.


The issue for the appeal court was whether epilepsy qualified as a “disease of the mind” under the M’Naghten rule and whether insanity was the correct defense for epilepsy sufferers.


he court agreed with the trial judge’s assessment that epilepsy is a disease of the mind and therefore the correct defense is insanity. Epilepsy is an internal illness that affects the mind, making it fall under the definition of M’Naghten.

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Answering problem questions in the University of London LLB programme requires a clear understanding of legal principles, good analytical skills and the ability to apply the law to a given set of facts. Here are some tips to help you answer problem questions effectively:

  1. Read the question carefully: Make sure you understand what the question is asking before you begin writing.
  2. Identify the legal issues: Identify the legal issues raised by the facts and the relevant laws that apply to those issues.
  3. Analyze the facts: Analyze the facts presented in the question, focusing on the details that are relevant to the legal issues.
  4. Apply the law: Apply the relevant laws to the facts, making sure to consider all relevant legal principles and cases.
  5. Structure your answer: Use a clear and well-structured approach, starting with an introduction that outlines the main legal issues, followed by a discussion of the relevant laws and a conclusion that summarizes your analysis and sets out your conclusion.
  6. Use relevant cases and statutes: Cite relevant cases and statutes to support your analysis and help illustrate the legal principles you are discussing.
  7. Be concise: Be concise and to the point, focusing on the key issues and avoiding unnecessary detail.
  8. Proofread: Proofread your answer carefully to make sure it is error-free and clear.
  9. Time management: Make sure you manage your time effectively, leaving enough time to review your answer and make any necessary corrections.

By following these tips, you should be able to answer problem questions in the University of London LLB programme effectively and with confidence. Good luck!

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