Practice and Procedure


PUBLISHED April 22, 2003

The judge's failure in a murder case to direct the jury that the defendant as a man of good character might have been unlikely to indulge in very serious violence without first being provoked was a material misdirection and verdicts of manslaughter were substituted for verdicts of murder.Appeal from the decision of the Court of Appeal of Trinidad and Tobago dismissing an application to appeal against conviction and sentence. The appellant ('P') beat three women - his common law wife, her mother and her sister - to death with a piece of wood after an argument. He was convicted of the murders of the three women and sentenced to death. The Court of Appeal dismissed his appeal. P appealed against his convictions and against the mandatory death sentences. P argued that the judge misdirected the jury as to the objective test in provocation because he failed to tell them that they had to take into account P's evidence that he was depressed due to the fact that his father was suffering from cancer. He also argued that there was a material misdirection because the judge did not give a proper good character direction.HELD: (1) Under the relevant legislation in Trinidad and Tobago (s.4B Offences Against The Person Act, which was identical to the relevant terms of s.3 Homicide Act 1957) the jury had to consider whether the defendant was in fact provoked to lose his self-control (the subjective test) and secondly, if so, whether the provocation was enough to make a reasonable man do as he did (the objective test). There was a conflict between two decisions (Luc Thiet Thuan v The Queen (1997) AC 131 and R v Morgan James Smith (2001) 1 AC 146) as to how the second question should be approached. (2) In order to dispose of this appeal it was not necessary to decide whether R v Luc Thiet Thuan (supra) or R v Smith (supra) should be followed since on either approach P's argument on provocation failed. The fact that P was depressed about his father's illness was an entirely normal and natural reaction and, in the absence of any evidence that his reaction was pathological, it did not constitute a "characteristic" within the ambit of R v Smith. There was no evidence before the jury that P's reaction to his father's illness affected the way P acted when he killed the three women. The judge's direction on provocation gave proper guidance whether the objective test was that set out in R v Luc Thiet Thuan or in R v Smith. (3) Where, as in this case. there was evidence of good character the judge should give a direction as to the relevance of that evidence both to credibility and to propensity. Langton v The State (2000) LTL 17/5/2000 showed that the jury should have been reminded that P as a man of good character might have been unlikely to indulge in very serious violence without first being provoked. The judge failed to give a proper direction in relation to propensity and since that was a major issue in the case there was a material misdirection. (4) The State's argument that the jury would inevitably have convicted of murder even if a proper direction on good character had been given could not be accepted, so the proviso in s.44(1) Supreme Court of Judicature Act 1962 could not be applied.Appeal allowed. Verdicts of manslaughter substituted for verdicts of murder.

[2003] UKPC 36