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Preview of Insanity

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Consider for a moment, whether someone who is suffering from an epileptic fit should be held responsible for a
battery, if ­ for example ­ they hit someone as their fit takes place. Common sense would dictate not. They are not in
control of their actions and therefore can form no mens rea.
General Principles
Insanity is a defence to all crimes except those of strict liability, where no mental element is required. This was
established in DPP v. H (1997).
The rules on insanity are based on a case called M'Naghten (1843). They are often referred to as the M'Naghten
Initially, the courts begin with the presumption of sanity which states that:
"In all cases every man is presumed to be sane and to possess a sufficient degree of reason to be held
responsible for his/her crimes."
R v. M'Naghten (1843)
R v. M'Naghten (1843)
D was suffering extreme paranoia, he decided to kill the Prime Minister, Sir Robert Peel, but ended up
shooting his secretary in the back. D was found NG of murder due to his mental state.
All defendants are presumed sane and to possess a sufficient degree of reason to be responsible for their
crimes unless it can be established otherwise, in which case D is not guilty by reason of insanity.
The rules on insanity stem from this case and are:
1. D must be suffering a defect of reason;
2. Caused by a disease of the mind;
3. So that D did not know what he was doing, or if he did know, he did not know the act was wrong.
Because of presumption of insanity, it is for the defence counsel to prove the defence on a balance of probabilities.
This is usually by two independent psychiatrist reports after examining the defendant.
The `Special Verdict'
Where the defendant is found to be insane, the verdict is not guilty by reason of insanity. This is called the
`special verdict' under s.1 of the Criminal Procedure (Insanity) Act 1964. Since this act and its successors, the
court has a number of discretionary sentencing options.
These options are:
· A hospitalisation order (with or without restrictions)
· A supervision order
· A guardianship order
· An absolute discharge
Criminal Procedure (Insanity and Unfitness to Plead) Act 1991

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The Special Verdict and Murder
When the defendant is found insane in relation to a murder charge, the verdict is not guilty of murder by reason of
insanity. The defendant must be hospitalised indefinitely.
Defect of Reason
The defect of reason must be more than absent-mindedness or confusion and must be caused by a disease
which affects the mind, i.e. an internal cause.
Clarke (1972)
D was charged with shop lifting. She had put the shopping in her own bag instead of the trolley.…read more

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The disease can be one which causes a transient or intermittent impairment of reason, memory or understanding. The
condition need not be permanent.
Sullivan (1984)
D kicked and injured an 80 year old during an epileptic attack. Medical evidence showed that D was
unaware of what was happening.
HL ruled that the source of the disease included any organic or functional disease whether it was
permanent or temporary, providing it was present at the time.…read more

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There is a crossover between the legal and medical definitions of insanity. It can be seen as unfair that
someone suffering from irresistible impulses who are psychopaths are not covered by the M'Naghten rules,
but physical illnesses such as diabetes and epilepsy can be tarred with the stigma. (Byrne 1960)
· There is an overlap with automatism which narrows the use of it as a full defence. The courts prefer to impose
some supervision with a defence of insanity.…read more


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