Duress- a very real defence
When I was starting out as a barrister, I was told of the one victory with the defence of duress that the senior barrister supervising me had achieved in his career. That senior barrister has now gone on to be a successful and highly regarded Queen’s Counsel.
Even now, most lawyers will express a healthy degree of cynicism when it comes to the defence of duress. When I ask my colleagues if they know of anyone who has been successful with the defence they give me distant memories of ‘someone who once had a lucky client…’
I think this should not be so. The defence of duress is a real and important defence for those people who have genuinely been forced into criminal behaviour by others, or by threat of circumstances. It is a sad reality of life that there are some very dangerous people who will cynically target other people and will threaten them to commit crimes. With appropriate legal restrictions, people should have the defence available to them. I am pleased that the law allows such a defence.
There are also a defence called ‘duress of circumstances’. This is where there is no threat from another person, but there is a threat from the circumstances that surround the person.
I have represented a number of clients accused of a number of different criminal offences who have run the defence of duress. Many of them have been successful. The defence of duress has been presented for those who have had possession of firearms and drugs, and also those accused of large scale banking fraud. It has been my experience that, when properly presented, the defence of duress is one that is carefully considered by a jury. It is rarely the hopeless defence that many lawyers think it is.