The Supreme Court heard the appeal in R v Golds on 14 June 2016, concerning the defence of diminished responsibility where a murder charge was at issue.


The appellant was convicted by a jury of murdering his partner, and received a sentence of life imprisonment. Prior to his trial, he had attempted to plead guilty to manslaughter on the basis of diminished responsibility. However the prosecution would not accept this plea. At trial, various experts have evidence to support the diminished responsibility defence. The judge gave certain directions to the jury regarding the defence, which was provided for in the Homicide Act 1957, s 2(1)(b), as amended by the Coroners and Justice Act 2009, s 52. The judge did not, however, provide any direction on the meaning of the word ‘substantial’, as in the phrase ‘substantial impairment’, which was an element of the defence.

Proceedings in the Court of Appeal

The appellant challenged his conviction in the Court of Appeal on a number of grounds. He argued that the judge ought not to have allowed bad character evidence to be admitted against him, and that the jury were inadequately directed in relation to this. He also challenged the refusal to allow evidence given at a voir dire to go before the jury. Finally, he challenged the failure to explain to meaning of the word ‘substantial’ to the jury. He expressed the view that the lack of an explanation led the jury to interpret it as referring to a more stringent standard than it was in reality.

The Court of Appeal dismissed the appeal on all grounds.

The appeal in the Supreme Court

The Supreme Court will have to decide whether the jury should be directed as to the definition of the word ‘substantial’ as it appears in the phrase ‘substantially impaired’ in the 1957 Act, as amended, where the accused wishes to establish that he is not guilty of murder by reason of diminished responsibility. If it decides that the court should direct the jury in this respect, or if the court opts to direct the jury on the meaning for another reason, the Supreme Court has been asked to decide if defining it as ‘something more than merely trivial’ is correct, or whether it should be communicated to the jury in a way that connotes more than this, such as “something whilst short of total impairment is nevertheless significant and appreciable”