R v Burgess

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R v Burgess
Court Court of Appeal (Criminal Division)
Decided 27 March 1991

2 QB 92
WLR 1206

All ER 769
Cases cited

Reg. v. Kemp [1957] 1 Q.B. 399, 407
Bratty v Attorney-General for Northern Ireland [1963] AC 386
Rabey v. The Queen [1980] 2 S.C.R. 513, 519, 520
Reg. v. Sullivan [1984] A.C. 156

Reg. v. Parks (1990) 56 C.C.C. (3d) 449
Legislation cited M'Naghten Rules (1843) 10 Cl. & Fin. 200
Trial of Lunatics Act 1883
Case history
Subsequent action(s) None
Court membership
Judge(s) sitting Lord Lane CJ, Roch and Morland
sleepwalking, violence, parasomnia

R v Burgess [1991] 2 QB 92 is a decision of the Court of Appeal of England and Wales that found sleepwalking as insane automatism. In a previous decision, Burgess was found not guilty by reason of insanity because his case fell under the M'Naghten Rules. Burgess appealed his previous verdict on the grounds he was not guilty due to automatism because he did not have the mens rea to make him guilty. However, the court ruled that sleepwalking was considered insane automatism and Burgess' appeal was denied.


On June 2, 1988, Mr. Barry Burgess attacked his friend Miss Katrina Curtis. She had fallen asleep on a sofa and woke up when Burgess, while allegedly sleepwalking, hit her over the head with a bottle. He subsequently picked up a video tape recorder and hit her on the head with it, giving her cuts and bruises. He put his hands around her throat, and when she said, "I love you Bar," it appeared that he came to his senses, and he called for an ambulance.


On July 20, 1989, the Bristol Crown Court before Judge Sir Ian Lewis and a jury found Burgess not guilty by reason of insanity on a charge of wounding with intent. He was ordered to be detained at a psychiatric hospital. Under section 12 of the Criminal Appeal Act 1968, Burgess appealed the decision.


The defendant brought in psychiatrist Dr. d’Orban and neuropsychiatrist Dr. Eames for medical evidence, and the prosecution called in neuropsychiatrist Dr. Fenwick. Dr. Fenwick contended that the incident was not sleepwalking, but perhaps a hysterical dissociative state.

The judge, Lord Lane said, "We accept of course that sleep is a normal condition, but the evidence in the instant case indicates that sleep walking, and particularly violence in sleep, is not normal."

It was found that the violent action was due to an internal, organic one, rather than an external cause. Thus, the appeal was subsequently denied.[1]


The sleepwalking in this case was violent and had a possibility of recurrence, so it could be considered a form of insanity.[2]


  1. ^ Heaton-Armstrong A (Editor), Shepherd E (Editor), Wolchover D (Editor) (2002). Analysing Witness Testimony: Psychological, Investigative and Evidential Perspectives: A Guide for Legal Practitioners and Other Professionals. Blackstone Press. ISBN 1-85431-731-8. 
  2. ^ Russell Heaton & Claire de Than (2010). Criminal Law 3e. Oxford University Press. ISBN 978-0-19-923412-7. Retrieved 3 April 2012.