The second element of the M’Naghten rules stated that the defendant must be suffering from a disease of the mind. As the defendant in M’Naghten was suffering from paranoia, which is a psychological and mental illness, it might have been decided that only mental illness could be included in the M’Naghten rules.
In Kemp, the defendant suffered from a physical illness known as arteriosclerosis, which caused the arteries to harden, causing congestion of blood on the brain. This produced a temporary loss of consciousness, during which time, D made an entirely motiveless and irrational attack on his wife with a hammer, causing her serious injury. He admitted that he was suffering from a ‘defect of reason’, but this defect of reason had not been caused by a disease of the mind, but a physical disease. Had this argument been accepted, then only mental illness would be accepted for insanity. However Lord Devlin held that
“The Law is not concerned with the brain but with the mind, in the sense that ‘mind’ is ordinarily used, the mental faculties of reason, memory and understanding. If one read for ‘disease of the mind’ ‘disease of the brain’, it would follow that in many cases pleas of insanity would not be established because it could not be proved that the brain had been affected in any way, either by degeneration of the cells or in any other way. In my judgement the condition of the brain is irrelevant and so is the question whether the condition is curable or incurable, transitory or permanent. ”
This judgement made by Lord Devlin meant that from then on, any disease that caused the defendant to suffer a defect of reason, qualified as a disease of the mind. This was because the defendant’s ordinary mental faculties of reason, memory and understanding had been affected so his condition came within the rules on insanity.
It could just have easily been decided in this case that the defect of reason had to be caused by a mental disease, as it was in M’Naghten. Had it been decided this way, then the cases of Sullivan (1984), and Hennessy (1989), and a number of other cases would have been decided differently, as it would have been decided they did not have a disease of the mind. The case of Kemp effectively decided that the term ‘disease of the mind’ was purely a legal term, not a medical one. It is for this reason that Kemp was so important for the development of the law on insanity, as it significantly widened the range of cases that insanity could be used in.
The first element of the M’Naghten rules is that the defendant must have suffered from a ‘defect of reason’. It is not clear what the exact meaning of these words are. Using just a simple English dictionary, it appears that defect of reason means a deficiency of motive or mind.
In the case of Clarke (1972), the defendant went into a supermarket, picked up three items including a jar of mincemeat, and put them into her own bag. She left the store without paying for them, and was charged with theft. She claimed to have lacked the mens rea for theft, on the basis of absent mindedness caused by diabetes and depression. She had no recollection of putting the items into her bag. She didn’t even want the mincemeat as neither her nor her husband ate it. The trial judge amounted this amounted to a plea of insanity, at which point she pleaded guilty.
From the definition given by the dictionary, it would appear that the defendant in this case suffered from a defect of reason, since she had no motive for taking the mincemeat, as she didn’t want it. However, Lord Ackner held that
“The rules apply only to persons who by reason of a ‘disease of the mind’ are deprived of the power of reasoning. They do not apply and never have applied to those who retain the power of reasoning, but who in moments of confusion or absent-mindedness fail to use their powers to the full”
Therefore, Clarke decided the definition of ‘defect of reason’ was where a person had lost their power of reasoning. In Clarke, she had only failed to use her power of reasoning. Someone in an epileptic fit cannot just snap out of it and think rationally, they are unconscious and will remain unconscious until their body stops. Clarke could have begun thinking rationally at any time, but had just failed to do so. Therefore the case of Clarke is one of the most important cases in the development of insanity, as it defined what a defect of reason is, and allowed people that had acted without mens rea due to absent mindedness be acquitted, as Clarke was.
Previous to 1973, the Courts used the continuing danger theory to determine whether or not something was or wasn’t a disease of the mind. The continuing danger theory was first explained by Lord Denning in Bratty v Attorney General of Northern Ireland who said that ‘any mental disorder which has manifested itself and is prone to recur is a disease of the mind’. The external danger theory was designed to complement the continuing danger theory. This was explained in Quick.
In the case, the defendant, Quick, was a nurse in a mental hospital who suffered from diabetes. He had taken his insulin one morning, but had eaten little afterwards. That afternoon he attacked a patient, causing him a number of injuries. He pleaded not guilty to assault; he had suffered a hypoglycaemic episode and could not remember what he had done. The judge ruled this was a plea of insanity, so Quick pleaded guilty and appealed. The Court of Appeal quashed his conviction.
His conviction was quashed because of the external factor theory. Lord Lawton said
“A malfunctioning of the mind of transitory effect caused by the application to the body of some external factor such as violence, drugs, including anaesthetics, alcohol and hypnotic influences cannot fairly be said to be due to disease”
The decision of Quick was important for two reasons. First it decided that diabetics who had suffered a hypoglycaemic episode due to the effects of insulin were able to use the defence of automatism, rather than insanity. This was because the hypoglycaemia was caused by not by diabetes, but by the insulin. This decision has been widely criticised however, as the underlying cause of the hypoglycaemia was diabetes. If he didn’t suffer from diabetes, he would not have been in a hypoglycaemic state, and so many argue that this case has been wrongly decided.
Whilst the case of Quick may have been decided wrongly, the decision confirmed that people who suffered from a defect of reason caused by an external factor, should be allowed to use the defence of automatism. The precedent made by this decision meant that other cases such as T (1990), could use the defence of automatism, rather than insanity. In T, it could have been decided by the judges that post-traumatic stress was a disease of the mind, and so the appropriate defence is insanity. Because of the decision in Quick, she was able to rely on the defence of automatism.
In the Canadian case of Parks (1992), the defendant got up in the middle of the night, got dressed and then drove 15 miles away to his in-laws. He then stabbed and killed his mother in-law, and severely injured his father in-law. He claimed he had been sleepwalking. At his trial, the judge left automatism to the jury, who acquitted him. The Supreme Court of Canada upheld these acquittals. The leading judge said that ‘accepting the medical evidence, the respondent’s mind was and its functioning must have been impaired at the relevant time but sleepwalking did not impair it. The cause was the natural condition, sleep’.
In Burgess, the defendant and his girlfriend were watching video’s in his flat. They fell asleep, and in his sleep Burgess attacked his girlfriend with a video recorder and a wine bottle, and then grasped her by the throat. Burgess pleaded automatism to a charge of unlawful wounding, on the basis he had been sleepwalking. The trial judge ruled he was pleading insanity, and the jury returned the special verdict. The Court of Appeal dismissed his appeal.
The case of Burgess is important as sleepwalking is a condition that affects about 2% of adults. That means a large number of people could commit similar acts to Burgess and Parks in their sleep. Whilst in Canada, the judges ruled that sleepwalking did not affect the defect of reason, but sleep, the UK judges decided that it was sleepwalking which caused the defect of reason. Whilst neither decision is wrong, the decision in Burgess means that defendants who commit an act whilst sleepwalking will only be able to use the defence of insanity rather than automatism.
Had the decision in Burgess been the same decision as in Parks, any act done whilst sleepwalking would be acquitted. However, the importance of Burgess is questionable, due to the decisions of other cases since 1991. In practice, any act done whilst sleepwalking should only be able to use the defence of insanity, not automatism. But in the case of Ecott 2007, the defendant raped a 15 year old girl whilst sleepwalking. Because of the decision of Burgess, he should have been allowed to either plead guilty to the offence, or use the defence of insanity. Instead, he successfully used the defence of non-insane automatism, which meant that the precedent in Burgess had not been followed.
Despite the fact that some courts seem to have an apparent disregard for the doctrine of judicial precedent, Burgess remains one of the most important cases in developing the law on insanity, as it decided that a condition which affects 2% of the population is insanity, rather than non-insane automatism.
The third element of the M’Naghten rules is that the defendant must not know the nature and quality of the act. The defendant could know that his act is legally wrong, morally wrong, both morally and legally wrong. But it is not clear which of the three he must know is wrong. If he does not know his act is wrong both morally and legally, then he can use the defence of insanity. Windle decided what type of wrong the defendant needed to know his act was.
In Windle, the defendant gave his wife 100 aspirins, which killed her. He gave himself up to police, and said ‘I suppose they will hang me for this’. He was suffering from a mental illness, but these words indicated that he knew what he had done was wrong. Lord Goddard said in his judgement in Windle that
“there is no doubt that… ‘wrong’ means contrary to the law.”
This decision meant that if the defendant knows his act is legally wrong, he cannot use the defence. This is so even if the defendant is suffering from delusions which cause him to think his act is morally right. The decision in Windle created a precedent, that was later followed by Johnson (2007), where the defendant knew his act was legally wrong, but morally right. The judge did not allow the defence of insanity to go to the jury, despite he thought that his act was morally right, because the precedent made by Windle said that it only matters if the defendant knows his act was legally wrong.
Therefore the case of Windle is important, as it defined what ‘wrong’ meant; that the defendant must not know his act was legally wrong to be able to use the defence of insanity. This precedent has been used in a number of cases since then.
In conclusion, the most important case is the case of M’Naghten, as it created the rules that govern the defence of insanity. The cases of Clarke, Kemp and Windle are all important in defining what each of the elements of the M’Naghten rules mean. Burgess is important as it operates in a grey area of the rules, where neither the decision of Parks or Burgess is wrong, even though they are conflicting ideas. It is also important as sleepwalking is a relatively common ‘disease’. Finally, Quick is important as it says that a person whose automatic state was caused by an external cause may use the defence of non-insane automatism, even if the underlying cause was a ‘disease of the mind’.
OCR Criminal Law for A2, Jacqueline Martin
Criminal Law, Diana Roe
Criminal Law, Tony Storey and Alan Lidbury