The law on insanity is overdue for reforms. The major problem is that the legal definition is extremely outdated and hasn’t changed since it was set by the M’Naughten Rules in eighteen forty three. At the time medical knowledge was very limited therefore a more definition should be used.
The definition of insanity has been deemed medically irrelevant. In nineteen fifty three the Royal commission on capital punishment was given evidence that even doctors regards the legal definition as absolute and misleading. This causes two problems. Firstly, people suffering from certain mental disorders do not qualify for the defence. For example, irresistible impulses and psychopaths as in Byrne nineteen sixty. They don’t come under the rules as they know what they are doing is wrong. However, they cannot prevent themselves from acting and have a recognised mental disease.
On the other hand, those suffering from physical illnesses such as diabetes, Hennesey, epilepsy, Sullivan, or sleepwalking, Burgess are considered legally insane. Additionally, some diabetics are classed as insane whilst others are not.
It could also be argued that the word insanity carries a social stigma. It is bad enough to use it in relation to people suffering mental disorders but is completely inappropriate to apply it to those suffering from diseases like epilepsy and diabetes.
It can also be argued that the shift of burden of proof poses problems. The defendant has to prove he is insane. This is possible that this is in breach of article six of the ECHR which states the defendant is innocent until proven guilty. This also conflicts with the decision in Woolmington v DPP nineteen thirty five that the burden of proof is on the prosecution to prove the offence, not to prove the defence. There to is the point that the function of the jury in deciding whether the defendant is insane or not is inappropriate. This task should be taken up by medical experts rather than jurors who have to listen to complex psychiatric issues and try to understand them.
Criticisms may be made about the verdict of insanity in cases. If a person is found not guilty then the recommendation could be an indefinite place is a secure hospital. In contrast, a murder conviction carries a life sentence most likely to be 25 years. It has been suggested that as most defendants would prefer the conviction of murder with the eventual freedom, they don’t bring up this defence. Surely this is a fault as the preferred sentence should not be murder. There is also the potential conflict with article five of the ECHR which states person may only be detained where proper account is taken of medical evidence. There is likely to be a human rights challenge on indeterminate sentences.
There have been many attempts at reforming the defence of insanity, none of which have been successful. The royal commission on capital punishment nineteen fifty three suggested the…