Criminal law


The partial loss of control as a defense was introduced into law by section 54 of the Coroners and Justice Act of 2009. This is a replacement of the defense of provocation that continued to govern cases of murder in this category. This defense is brought into a case to reduce the charge from murder to manslaughter where the defendant can prove that they acted in a set of circumstances that was outside their control. Such a defense is partial and exists only for the charge of murder. The defense was brought up after appellate courts in the English jurisdiction failed to rule consistently on the former defense of provocation that existed under the Homicide Act.[1] This paper is an analysis of this defense in reference to the statement made in Section 54 of the Act.

Loss of Control  

The defense of provocation proved problematic to apply because it often showed gender bias. There was the likelihood that male defendants were favored because they killed out of provocation as opposed to female defendants who killed out of the fear of being victimized, as is the case with domestic violence.[2] As a result, a more stringent rule of loss of control was introduced, and it had similar requirements to those of the defense of provocation though it presented tighter requirements for its application.[3] Section 54 (1) (c) being the part of the legislation in focus for this paper, puts a requirement on the defendant so that a person of their age and sex with a normal amount of tolerance and self-restraint would react in a similar way under the circumstances the defendant executed the murder.[4]

This clause under section 54 removes the reasonable man’s test that was the application under the defense of provocation, and which, therefore, brought widespread speculation and differences in the application of the law. This requirement was removed in the landmark case of Attorney General for Jersey V Holley.[5] In this case, the court ruled that the reasonable man test was no longer sufficient to hold a conviction of murder, or to reduce it to manslaughter.[6] Here, the defendant had been an alcoholic and was engaged in a relationship with an equally alcoholic lady. The relationship had been rough, and the defendant had served prison time because of gender-based violence convictions. In one instance, the defendant’s girlfriend came home and announced that she had had sex with another man. The defendant hacked her with an axe and was thereafter convicted of murder. Upon appeal, the court ruled that there was a loss of control, which was no longer subject to the reasonable man’s test.

The further test of having a similar age and sex as the defendant was applied in the case of DPP V Camplin.[7] The jury, in this case, was allowed to consider the issue of the age of the defendant. Lord Diplock commented that not only is the age of the defendant the central question, but also the reaction that he took, considering what the person of similar age and sex would have done in a similar situation.[8] Therefore, as a result of this consideration within the defense of loss of control, and the circumstances of DPP V Camplin and R V Clinton, murder following sexual infidelity can be considered.[9] In the case mentioned above, the appellate court ruled that where in a situation of sexual infidelity and other qualifying triggers to the murder, the defense of loss of control would be available to the defendant.[10]

Different to the defense of provocation that was a balancing act between the actions of the defendant and those of a reasonable man, the defense of loss of control puts no such burden on the defendant to prove. In this piece of legislation, only three requirements are set to prove that there was a loss of control on the part of the defendant. These three include: there must be a fear of serious violence; the situation must be extremely grave or the victim must have seriously wronged the defendant.[11] As such, the conduct of the defendant is not brought into consideration in this instance, as was seen in the above case laws.

Qualifying Triggers

The defense of loss of control largely depends on proving that there was a qualifying trigger. This would then come in handy to prove that a person of similar sex and age, and all the characteristics mentioned in section 54 (1) (c), would react in a similar way. Qualifying triggers were introduced to correct the attitude that the courts had towards provocation; where virtually any act could qualify as a provoking act. In some cases, even a crying baby passed for a provocation, and the provoking act did not have to be aimed at the defendant.[12]

Section 55 then outlines the circumstances under which there can be qualifying triggers, namely, situations of grave character, fear of violence from the victim and where the victim had wronged the defendant. The test of being in a state of grave character and where the defendant felt abused by the victim was decided in the case of R V Hatter.[13] In the case, the defendant entered into a relationship with a lady, who later began to see another man without telling the defendant that their relationship was over. One night the defendant climbed through the window and stabbed the lady on the chest and cut her wrist, but claimed that it had been an accident. He further stabbed himself but survived. The courts held that the defense for loss of control was not applicable in this case. The end of a relationship does not suffice as sufficient grounds to plead loss of control.[14]

The situation of justified wronging against the defendant was considered in the case of R V Bowyer.[15] Here, the defendant was a burglar entering the house of his friend to steal. Upon being discovered, the owner taunted the defendant that he had been having sexual relations with his girlfriend, who was also a prostitute. The defendant snapped and tied the victim with an electricity wire after beating him up. The victim was found dead the next afternoon. The defense of loss of control was not regarded. The court ruled that since the defendant was wrongfully in the house of the victim (to steal in order to feed his heroin addiction), there was no way that he could have been wronged, let alone seriously wronged by the victim. The conviction was upheld for murder.[16]


The defense for loss of control has added advantages to those who saw the defense of provocation as having some gender bias. However, it puts even higher standards for proving that one lost control of themselves when committing the crime.

[1] Law Resource UK, The Defense of Loss of Control – Voluntary Manslaughter. 2001, Retrieved on 19 August, 2015 from Law Resource UK:

[2] J. Dessler, Why keep the provocation defense: some refelctions on a difficult subject. Minnessota Law Review, 86, 2001, pp. 959.

[3] J. Horder, Provocation and responsibility. Oxford University Press, London, 1992.

[4] UK Parliament, Coroners and Justice Act. UK Parliament, London, 2009.

[5] Attorney General for Jersey V Holley, 2005.

[6] Law Resource UK, Attorney General for Jersey V Holley. 2005, Retrieved on August 19, 2015, from

[7] DPP V Camplin, 1978.

[8] Law Resource UK, DPP V Camplin. 1978, Retrieved August 19, 2015, from

[9] R V Clinton, 2012.

[10] Law Resource UK, R V Clinton. 2013, Retrieved August 19, 2015, from

[11] Law Resource UK, The Defense of Loss of Control – Voluntary Manslaughter. 2005, Retrieved from Law Resource UK:

[12]R V Doughty, 1986; R V Davies, 1975.

[13] R V Hatter, 2013.

[14] Law Resource UK, R V Hatter. 2013, Retrieved August 19, 2015, from

[15] R V Bowyer, 2013.

[16] Law Resources UK, R V Bowyer. 2013, Retrieved August 19, 2015, from

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