Readers may be interested in this forthcoming event at my institution.  For further information, please contact Dr Michael Stockdale (

The first seminar to be organised by the Centre for Evidence and Criminal Justice Studies at Northumbria University in the 2012-13 academic year will be delivered by Dr Geth Rees from the University of Southampton—see details of the topic below.  It will take place on September 25th from 17.00-19.00 at Northumbria University in the Faculty of Business and Law building, City Campus East (17 on this map).

Mobilising and Reconstructing Risky Sleepers: Sleep experts’ negotiation of self-intoxication and the insane automatism dichotomy

Sexsomnia, a condition that results in a person engaging in sexual behaviours while asleep, was identified as a medical phenomenon in 2003.  Two years later it was successfully deployed as a defence in the English rape case R. v Bilton, and there has been a marked increase in such defences ever since.  Sleep experts are asked during such cases to offer an opinion on whether they consider the suspect to have sexsomnia, and to assess the likelihood of whether intercourse did take place while the suspect was unconscious.  While it is not the expert’s responsibility to discern whether a sexsomniac episode was triggered by an “internal” (arising from some ongoing or sporadic disturbance from within the individual’s body or psyche) or “external” (intoxication via drugs or alcohol for instance) cause, experts often find ways to get their opinions across.

Testing for whether a sexsomniac episode was the result of intoxication (or was in fact a forgotten sexual act the result of alcoholic blackout) has become a contentious and controversial question in sleep expertise and has played out both in the courtrooms of the General Medical Council as well as in the trial of Zach Thompson.  In this paper I will discuss the controversy surrounding alcohol provocation and the effects that this is having with regards the personnel involved in English rape trials where sleep is used as a defence.