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The Distinction Between Insanity, Automatism And Diminished Responsibility In The Laws Of England And Wales. Covers The M'naghten Rule Which Is Also A Dominant Rule In Us Legal Doctrine.

2922 words - 12 pages

"The defendant who seeks to avoid criminal liability on the basis that s/he was suffering from a mental disorder at the time of the alleged crime must have a defence that falls within one of the following, legally recognised, categories: Insanity, Diminished Responsibility or Automatism. While, at one level or another, these "mental disorder defences" share common characteristics, they each differ significantly. Unfortunately, this point does not appear to be fully appreciated in English Law."Discuss the validity of this statement.Inherent in our legal system is an idea of culpability. The word itself embodies notions of moral responsibility and blame. There are two elements that will allow us to determine whether or not someone is to be considered culpable. The first is that the person on whom we wish to apportion blame is an actual agent of harm as opposed to a mere causer. That is to say that they are instrumental in an action and are not simply a victim of a spasm or similar associated condition. The second is that he/she has the capacity to understand the laws and moral order that exist within society. Hart's principles of justice assert that 'a moral license to punish is needed by society and unless a man has the capacity and fair opportunity or chance to adjust his behaviour to the law, its penalties ought not be applied to him." Such deep-rooted notions of culpability have necessitated development in the area of defences to ensure that those who fall outside of the legally recognised parameters of accountability are afforded 'protection'. Amongst such defences are Insanity, Automatism and Diminished responsibility. This essay will identify the similarities and differences of these defences by exploring their theoretical foundations and determine whether, in practice, they are sufficiently understood by the courts to achieve their desired end.The theoretical basis for an insanity defence is embedded in the notions of fair opportunity as discussed above. It is felt that the insane man is 'too far removed from normality to make us angry with him'. The impetus of the law and its functions might well be considered outside of his comprehension and similarly, so too might the moral implications of his act. Therefore, it would not be either 'efficacious or equitable' to hold such a man criminally responsible . As Duff remarks of the potential insane defendant "if she cannot understand what is being done to her, or why it is being done, or how it is related as a punishment to her past offence, her punishment becomes a travesty?". Therefore, if a defence of insanity is successful the defendant will be given a 'special verdict' namely 'not guilty by reason of insanity'. Although this special verdict may bring indefinite detention (a fact which is reconciled in theory by 'compelling considerations of public interest' ) it still serves to reflect a lack of culpability and therefore, blame.The basis on which the non-insane automatism defence is founded...

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