Exculpatory defences in criminal law

Date of this Version

January 1990

Document Type

Journal Article

Publication Details

Interim status: Citation only

Colvin, Eric (1990). Exculpatory defences in criminal law. Oxford Journal of Legal Studies , Vol. 10, Iss. 3, pp. 381-407.

An excerpt from this paper has been reprinted in the book ‘Readings in criminal law’ (Weaver, R, et al. (1998). Readings in criminal law. Cincinnati, Ohio: Anderson Publishing).


The concern of this article is the theory of exculpatory defences in the criminal law of the common-law world. The term ‘exculpatory defences” is here used to describe those general defences which negative criminal culpability despite the presence of the definitional elements of a defence. Culpability may be negatived because the actus reus occurred in a special context, as in defences like self-defence or duress. Alternatively, it may be negatived because of mental impairment, as where an incapacity to know that conduct is wrong grounds an insanity defence. Exculpatory defences arise independently of the definitional elements of offences.

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This document has been peer reviewed.