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.

Essay by l_m_oneillUniversity, Bachelor'sB, March 2003

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"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...