fit, a hypoglycaemic episode or sleepwalking. In Part 2, an attempt will be made to situate the concept of automatism within the words ‘voluntarily’ and ‘act’, which are terms used by the Penal Code. This expositionwill enhance our understanding of these other concepts. I shall contend that the term ‘voluntarily’ under theCode focuses on the means used to cause an effect, as opposed to the intention to cause an effect. I shallalso show that the concept of an ‘act’ under the Code is not restricted to a single act but can involve a seriesof acts forming one transaction. The ramifications of this broad interpretation of ‘act’ to the determination of criminal responsibility will be noted.Parts 3, 4 and 5will seek to situate the concept of automatism within the defences of unsoundness of mindand intoxication, and to compare the concept with the closely related defences of provocation and diminishedresponsibility. In Part 6, the issue of which party should bear the onus of proving or disproving automatismwill be canvassed. Discussion of this procedural matter will confirm our understanding of the volitional natureof automatism and its role in negating the
of a crime or as part of a true defence. In Part 7, thearticle concludes with a proposal to rectify by legislation the present difficulties created by the Code’s failureto give voluntariness its proper role.Legal developments from Australia and Canada concerning the concept of automatism will be relied uponthroughout this article. Obviously, the laws of these other jurisdictions are not binding on the Malaysian andSingaporean courts which are restricted by the wording of the Penal Code. However, these developments areuseful insofar as they shed light on the said concepts and will doubtless be of assistance to both the courtsand legislatures when attempting to incorporate the concepts into the Code.
1 Automatism defined
Automatism is often viewed as amounting to a lack of consciousness rather than a lack of volition, that is, aninability to control or contain one’s actions. It was so regarded by the Malayan Court of Appeal case of
Sinnasamy v Public Prosecutor (‘Sinnasamy’) ,
which was an appeal against a conviction of murder by theappellant of his infant child. The appellant contended that he had no recollection of performing the fatalstabbing although he remembered in considerable detail the events and circumstances immediatelypreceding and following the stabbing. At the trial, a medical witness testified that the appellant was anepileptic but also that a person suffering from an automatistic state will not be conscious at the time. Basedon the appellant’s own evidence that he remembered much of what had transpired immediately before andafter the stabbing, the Court of Appeal concluded that the trial judge had been correct in holding that theappellant had been conscious at the relevant time and could therefore not have been in an automatisticstate. Furthermore, the court endorsed the trial judge’s acceptance of the prosecution’s suggestion that the