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Comparing And Contrasting The Differences Of Insanity, Automatism And Diminished Responsibility

1611 words - 6 pages

There are two theories that justify punishment: retributivism according to which punishment ensures that justice is done, and utilitarianism which justifies punishment because it prevents further harm being done. The essence of defences is that those who do not freely choose to commit an offence should not be punished, especially in those cases where the defendant's actions are involuntary. All three of these defences concern mental abnormalities. Diminished responsibility is a partial statutory defence and a partial excuse. Insanity and automatism are excuses and defences of failure of proof. While automatism and diminished responsibility can only be raised by the defendant, insanity can be raised by the defence or the prosecution. It can be raised by the prosecution when the defendant pleads diminished responsibility or automatism. The defendant may also appeal against the insanity verdict. With insanity and diminished responsibility, the burden of proof is on the defendant. With automatism the burden of proof is on the prosecution and they must negate an automatism claim beyond reasonable doubt.
There are two types of automatism: sane and insane. Sane automatism is caused by an external factor and insane automatism by an internal factor. Automatism occurs when the defendant's conscious mind is not connected with the part of mind that controls actions. Insanity can be used where a disease of mind prevented the defendant from reasoning. Automatism and insanity excuse the defendant because his state of mind was such that he cannot be regarded as responsible for his actions. Both of these defences apply to all offences. Unlike automatism and insanity, diminished responsibility may be caused by external or internal factors but these must be within s. 2 of the Homicide Act 1957. Diminished responsibility is a statutory partial defence created by s. 2 and is a special defence to murder. Where successful, it reduces liability from murder to manslaughter, removing the mandatory sentence (life imprisonment). Diminished responsibility is successful where the defendant did not have the rational capacity to order his actions according to rules, which must be due to an abnormality of mind. Unlike the other two defences, diminished responsibility only impairs responsibility and does not fully excuse it.
The courts make the distinction between external and internal causes for the purposes of insanity and automatism in order to separate those who can be released and those who cannot. This is because the two defences have very different results for the defendant. Where successful, automatism results in an acquittal whereas insanity results in a special verdict of 'not guilty by reason of insanity'. The insanity label carries a certain stigma which may not be desirable for defendants suffering from normal medical conditions such as diabetes, which are also included in the definition of insanity. Diabetics who fail to take their medication and...

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