Business, Legal & Accounting Glossary

Definition: Automatism

What is the dictionary definition of Automatism?

Dictionary Definition

1. Acting automatically or involuntarily.
2. An action performed subconsciously, without any apparent direction from the mind; a thought which appears spontaneously in one’s consciousness.
3. A surrealist painting technique whereby one attempts to move the brush, pen etc. without conscious control over it.

Full Definition of Automatism

Acting reflexively, not under conscious control. In English law, the distinction between automatism and Insanity is drawn on the basis of internal and external factors and is somewhat archaic. Automatism requires an external factor (e.g., a severe head wound). In an archetypal automatism case, Denning LJ classed sleepwalking as a meta of automatism; more recently it has had to be reclassified as `insanity’ because of the lack of an external factor.

Automatism may be a defence against a criminal charge, but not if the defendant was responsible for the situation that gave rise to the automatism (see: R v Quick 1973). In addition, there must be a total loss of conscious control, not merely an impairment (see: Ags ref 21992).

If the defendant introduces evidence of automatism, the prosecution has the task of disproving it beyond a reasonable doubt. In insanity, however, the burden of proof is on the defendant.

Cite Term

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Page URL
Modern Language Association (MLA):
Automatism. Payroll & Accounting Heaven Ltd. December 04, 2020
Chicago Manual of Style (CMS):
Automatism. Payroll & Accounting Heaven Ltd. (accessed: December 04, 2020).
American Psychological Association (APA):
Automatism. Retrieved December 04, 2020, from website:

Definition Sources

Definitions for Automatism are sourced/syndicated and enhanced from:

  • A Dictionary of Economics (Oxford Quick Reference)
  • Oxford Dictionary Of Accounting
  • Oxford Dictionary Of Business & Management

This glossary post was last updated: 4th April, 2020 | 0 Views.