Behavioural genetics

44.105 Some scientists are currently undertaking research into whether there is a genetic component to various traits relating to an individual’s behaviour and personality, including intelligence, aggression, antisocial behaviour, anxiety, alcoholism and addiction. Research into behavioural genetics has raised concerns of a renewed interest in the notion of ‘genetic behavioural determinism’.[100]

44.106 If these deterministic theories become widely accepted, defendants in criminal proceedings might seek to rely on these theories to prove that they should not be held responsible for their behaviour. For example, a defendant might admit striking the victim, but argue that his or her responsibility was diminished or eliminated because of a genetic predisposition to aggression and violence. These arguments have been raised in a number of criminal trials to date, without success.[101]

44.107 The courts have taken a cautious approach to admitting arguments or evidence based on genetic behavioural determinism. The science in this area is still at an early stage of development, and no doubt in future there will be strong arguments about the extent of genetic determinism versus environmental influences and interactions, and about criminal responsibility and free will.

44.108 The Inquiry is not in a position to add anything to this early discussion, much less to propose any changes to the law. However, as discussed in Chapter 5, the Inquiry considers that the HGCA could have a role to play in moderating community debate about these important issues in future.

[100] See Nuffield Council on Bioethics, Genetics and Human Behaviour: The Ethical Context (2001), Nuffield Council on Bioethics, London, for more information.

[101] For example, Nelio Adelino DaSilva Serra v R (Unreported, Court of Criminal Appeal of Northern Territory, Kearney, Angel and Priestley JJ, 24 February 1997).