Intoxication and Criminal Liability (2009)

Current project status

  • Initiation: Could include discussing scope and terms of reference with lead Government Department
  • Pre-consultation: Could include approaching interest groups and specialists, producing scoping and issues papers, finalising terms of project
  • Consultation: Likely to include consultation events and paper, making provisional proposals for comment
  • Policy development: Will include analysis of consultation responses. Could include further issues papers and consultation on draft Bill
  • Reported: Usually recommendations for law reform but can be advice to government, scoping report or other recommendations

This project is complete. Government has rejected our recommendations

Many crimes, particularly crimes of violence, are committed when the offender is in a state of extreme or partial intoxication, usually as a result of the voluntary consumption of alcohol but often because of his or her use of (other) drugs, or a combination of alcohol and drugs. This view is supported by a number of empirical studies.

It would appear, moreover, that the media are reporting an increase in the number of alcohol-related crimes of violence, with recent articles including references to drunken street violence being out of control and binge-drinking leading to violent “no-go” areas in many town centres.

It follows that the availability (or non-availability) of defences to criminal liability based on intoxication may have a far-reaching effect across a wide spectrum of criminal behaviour and on the perception – particularly the perception of a victim and his or her family – of whether justice has been done. The availability (or non-availability) of intoxication-based defences to crimes is therefore an extremely important social and political, as well as legal, issue.

The project

Our report, published on 15 January 2009, addresses the law governing the extent to which a defendant may rely on his or her drunken or otherwise intoxicated state at the time he or she committed a criminal offence to avoid liability. The report focuses on the situation where the defendant was voluntarily intoxicated.  However, it also addresses the more unusual situation where the defendant’s intoxication was involuntary.

Our recommendations for reform would render the law:

  • logically sound as a matter of policy
  • more comprehensive and therefore more accessible, and
  • internally consistent.


The Law Commission undertook a thorough review of the law on intoxication prior to publishing its 1992 consultation paper Intoxication and Criminal Liability consultation Following consultation, the Commission’s final recommendations were set out in its 1995 report Legislating the Criminal Code: Intoxication and Criminal Liability (LC 229).

However, the Commission’s Draft Criminal Law (Intoxication) Bill appended to the 1995 report has never been presented to Parliament. In a1998 consultation paper, Violence, Reforming the Offences Against the Person Act 1861, the Home Office commented that the Government had considered the Commission’s recommendations and draft Criminal Law (Intoxication) Bill but had concluded “that they were unnecessarily complex for the purposes of [its Offences against the Person] Bill”.

More than a decade after the publication of the 1995 report we were of the view that codification with clarification and modifications was still the right approach; but we accepted that the Commission’s previous attempt to give effect to this policy might legitimately be regarded as unduly complex.

We therefore decided to revisit this extremely important aspect of the criminal law with a view to providing the Government with an entirely new draft Bill which, while consistent with the policy underpinning the 1995 Bill, would seek to address the criticisms levelled against our previous attempt to codify the law.


Documents and downloads

Project details

Area of law

Criminal law