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Man’s Appeal Against Murder Conviction of Basis of Self-Defence Refused

Dines v HM Advocate [2021] HCJAC 29

The High Court of the Justiciary Appeal Court has refused an appeal against conviction launched by a man who claimed that he stabbed a man five times in self-defence.

The appellant, Aaron Dines, was convicted in 2019 of striking the complainer with a knife to his sever injury and permanent disfigurement. He was subsequently sentenced to 8 years in prison. The incident occurred during a botched drug deal in which the appellant stabbed the complainer numerous times with a bread knife which he had brought with him. 

At trial, a witness who was with the appellant at the time claimed that the appellant had brought out the knife and began fighting the complainer. He denied seeing the appellant being stabbed. In giving evidence himself, the appellant claimed that the complainer attacked him in order to rob him and that he did not know how the complainer’s injuries occurred. The appellant also denied ever having a knife. 

The Trial Sheriff raised the prospect of self-defence with the appellant’s counsel at trial, who agreed that there were not sufficient grounds for it to be established. 

On appeal, it was submitted for the appellant that taking together the appellant’s evidence at trial, his comments to the police and evidence from two other witnesses who spoke to the complainer initiating the violence, that this could form the special defence of self-defence. In commenting on counsel’s agreement that self-defence did not exist at trial, the appellant submitted that this was an error on the Sheriff’s part and that it showed the Sheriff had a pre-determined view which undermined the trial.

The opinion of the court was delivered by Lord Matthews, who said: “The proposition, derived from cases such as Crawford v HM Advocate (1950), that special defences ought not to be withdrawn if there is any reasonable basis in the evidence for them, is non-controversial. By navigating a tortuous path within the evidence in this case, there might have been a basis for the jury to hold that the complainer had a knife (the appellant’s own evidence) and that the appellant was acting, as he put it to the police, in self-defence in a general sense.”.

The court was focused, however, on the concession made by counsel at trial: “The more fundamental problems for the appellant are the nature of his own evidence and the agreement by his counsel that the issue of self-defence could not arise on the evidence. There is no foundation for any suggestion, nor indeed was it suggested, that counsel was put under any pressure to make this concession.”

In addressing whether the trial judge did err on not considering self-defence, the Appeal Court held that: “The trial judge quite properly raised the issue and counsel quite properly indicated that he would not be relying on the special defence. There was no need for him to use any particular form of words in withdrawing the special defence. An indication to the trial judge that that was his position was quite sufficient. The judge made no error. He did not in fact make any operative decision at all, although we know what his views on the matter were.”

Accordingly, the appeal was refused. 

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