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Insanity: Evaluation & Reform

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Insanity: Evaluation & Reform

[Flash Card 1 of 2]

  • need for reform generally accepted / wide criticism of M'Naghten rules / Dr Winstanley: .. as long ago as 1874 the noble Lord, Lord Bramwell.. said that 'the present law lays down such a definition of madness that nobody is hardly ever really mad enough to be within it'...
  • Law Commission's Tenth Programme of Reform / considering Unfitness to plead & insanity defence / document outlining the programme: .. the problems with the current law are many and deep....


  • legal not medical / raises uncertainty
  • Ds may know act is wrong but have irresistible urge / defence unavailable / psychopaths (Byrne)
  • conversely Ds suffering some physical illnesses may be considered legally insane / diabetes (Hennessey)


  • not guilty by reason of insanity / implications significant / can lead to indefinite detention in secure hospital / may be lengthier sentence than life
  • well documented many offenders suffer mental health problems / yet insanity relatively uncommon defence
  • Article 5 of ECHR / person of unsound mind may be detained but also afforded protections / interpreted to mean need for objective medical expertise / not always involved in insanity pleas
  • Butler Committee 1975 / recommended new verdict of not guilty by reason of mental disorder / where D unable to form required mens rea due to mental disorder or aware of his actions but suffering from severe mental illness / suggested may help alleviate stigma
bits of law

Insanity: Evaluation & Reform

[Flash Card 2 of 2]


  • recommended proof of severe mental disorder / sufficient to negate responsibility / but would allow criminal responsibility to be determined by presence of mental problem / rather than establishing standard of criminal responsibility
  • question whether insanity should be available for all crimes/ even those not requiring mens rea
  • Royal Commission on Capital Punishment 1953 / found M'Naghten Rules inadequate / criticising their scope


  • overlap clear / distinction lies in whether D's conduct due to automatic state induced by internal or external factor / Law Commission: .. the relationship is unsatisfactory because of the 'external factor' doctrine...
  • unfair / lead to very different verdicts / automatism entitles acquittal / not guilty by reason of insanity judge must impose some order
bits of law
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