Evil or Ill? Justifying the Insanity Defence

By Lawrie Reznek | Go to book overview

1

A HISTORY OF CRIMINAL RESPONSIBILITY

BAD DEEDS AND EVIL MINDS

Understanding the concept of insanity requires knowing its conceptual history. Anglo-American law is constitutively historical: past procedure and decisions determine how the present law functions (Smith, 1981). For this reason, understanding the history is to understand the law. According to Anglo-American law, a person is guilty of a crime if two conditions are satisfied. He must commit a criminal act and have a criminal mind. These two components are called the actus reus and mens rea respectively-the bad deed and evil mind. The idea that evil intent is necessary for a crime is cited as far back as Bractin in his thirteenth-century treatise On the Laws and Customs of England: 'a crime is not committed unless the will to harm be present/ This is the doctrine of mens rea: Actus non facit reum nisi mens sit rea: The act does not make a man guilty unless his mind is guilty. The requirement that a particular state of mind be present for a crime to exist has a fundamentally important consequence: it opens the possibility of excuses in general, and in particular the possibility that abnormal states of mind can exculpate. The history of the insanity defence is the history of what states have counted as excuses and why.

Little has changed in 150 years. When M'Naghten was found NGRI in 1843, there was a public outcry. The Illustrated London News noted that 'within the previous three years there had been five assassination attempts, three against the sovereign, and not a single criminal had been duly punished'. The House of Lords was moved to draw up the M'Naghten Rules defining insanity. In 1981, Hinckley was found NGRI, provoking a similar outcry.

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Evil or Ill? Justifying the Insanity Defence
Table of contents

Table of contents

  • Title Page iii
  • Contents vii
  • Preface xi
  • Introduction 1
  • 1 - A History of Criminal Responsibility 15
  • 2 - A Taxonomy of Defences 38
  • 3 - Ignorance as an Excuse 61
  • 4 - Compulsion as an Excuse 75
  • 5 - Automatism as an Excuse 93
  • 6 - The Justification of Excuses 115
  • 7 - Causality as an Excuse 135
  • 8 - The Reductionist Theory 152
  • 9 - Irrationality as an Excuse 173
  • 10 - The Concept of Disease 200
  • 11 - Character Change as an Excuse 223
  • 12 - The Clash of Paradigms 246
  • 13 - The Insanity Defence in Practice 266
  • Conclusion 295
  • Bibliography 311
  • Index 322
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