R v M’Naghten

English Criminal Law

R v M'Naghten
‘Dance at Insane Asylum’ by George Wesley Bellows

Jury instruction for the defence of insanity dates back as far as the common law of England, however in 1843 the time had arrived for a revision and clarification of what qualified as insanity, and how best to grant the jurors scope to reach a credible conclusion, as was shown in this now landmark case.

In January of that year, Daniel M’Naghten was indicted before the Middlesex Central Criminal Court on grounds that he had wilfully and with malice aforethought, murdered another man when shooting him in the back with a pistol.

During the trial, medical evidence presented was such that suggested a man was of unsound mind when afflicted with morbid delusions capable of rendering him unable to determine right from wrong at the time his act was committed, to which the defendant claimed such weakness as a defence.

When instructing the jury in The Queen v M’Naghten, Tindal LJ expressed that:

“The question to be determined is, whether at the time the act in question was committed, the prisoner had or had not the use of his understanding, so as to know that he was doing a wrong or wicked act. If the jurors should be of opinion that the prisoner was not sensible, at the time he committed it, that he was violating the laws both of God and man, then he would be entitled to a verdict in his favour: but if, on the contrary, they were of opinion that when he committed the act he was in a sound state of mind, then their verdict must be against him.”

Upon which the jury returned a not guilty verdict and the matter was escalated to the House of Lords so as to explore both the existing legal position on insanity, along with the optimal and most effective use of jury instruction where cases required it.

By addressing a number of esteemed judges, the House requested clarification on the following five questions:

  1. What was the common law position on crimes involving insane delusions under a variation of circumstances ranging from simple offences to revenge or acts of public interest?
  1. What were the correct jury instructions in such matters?
  1. How much freedom should be given to jurors when assessing the defendant’s state of mind?
  1. Should a defendant shown to be delusional be acquitted of whatever crime is under discussion?
  1. Can a medical professional provide a credible and measured opinion of a defendant whose acts occurred both out of sight and mind of those providing such testimony?

To which the judges tentatively answered:

1. “To render a person irresponsible for crime on account of unsoundness of mind, the unsoundness should, according to the law as it has long been understood and held, be such as rendered him incapable of knowing right from wrong.”

2. “[E]very man is to be presumed to be sane, and to possess a sufficient degree of reason to be responsible for his crimes, until the contrary be proved to their satisfaction; and that to establish a defence on the ground of insanity, it must be clearly proved that, at the time of the committing of the act, the party accused was labouring under such a defect of reason, from disease of the mind, as not to know the nature and quality of the act he was doing; or, if he did know it, that he did not know he was doing what was wrong.”

3. “[T]here are no terms which the Judge is by law required to use. They should not be inconsistent with the law as above stated, but should be such as, in the discretion of the Judge, are proper to assist the jury in coming to a right conclusion as to the guilt of the accused.”

4.  “[I]f under the influence of his delusion he supposes another man to be in the act of attempting to take away his life, and he kills that man, as he supposes, in self-defence, he would be exempt from punishment. If his delusion was that the deceased had inflicted a serious injury to his character and fortune, and he killed him in revenge for such supposed injury, he would be liable to punishment.”

5. “[T]he medical man, under the circumstances supposed, cannot in strictness be asked his opinion in the terms above stated, because each of those questions involves the determination of the truth of the facts deposed to, which it is for the jury to decide, and the questions are not mere questions upon a matter of science, in which case such evidence is admissible. But where the facts are admitted or not disputed, and the question becomes substantially one of science only, it may be convenient to allow the question to be put in that general form, though the same cannot be insisted on as a matter of right.”

To which the House expressed its sincere gratitude at placing the judges in such a position that might otherwise precluded them from venturing an answer to questions as broad as they were narrow.

 

R v Jordan

English Criminal Law

R v Jordan
‘Jury’ by Norman Rockwell

Jury conviction beyond any reasonable doubt can often prove protracted and not without its tenuous merits, however on this occasion the determination that murder was the unequivocal cause of death is brought into stark controversy, when the introduction of alternate medical evidence casts serious doubts upon exactly what happened in the time prior to the victim’s death.

In May 1956, the appellant American Serviceman and three other men were embroiled in a fracas when during the disagreement, the appellant stabbed one of those involved, after which the victim later died of broncho-pneumonia whilst recovering in hospital, and upon which the appellant was indicted for murder and found guilty in Leeds Assizes before being sentenced to death.

Under appeal, an investigation by the American authorities revealed new evidence put forward by two highly reputable medical doctors, and which cited that the cause of death was actually related to the administration of terramycin, a commonly prescribed antibiotic that on this occasion, had triggered and allergic reaction that in turn led to diarrhoea, and which was further exacerbated through its continued administration, despite immediate instructions to cease its use.

In addition to this, hospital staff had also intravenously introduced disproportionate doses of saline, which likewise resulted in a pulmonary oedema through waterlogged lungs, a condition that left untreated, causes broncho-pneumonia, and upon which it had been established as the direct cause of death, while the stab wound itself had since been shown to have healed with no known complications.

Faced with such weighty and compelling testimony, the Criminal Court of Appeal turned to a number of distinguishable cases before relying upon R v Harding, in which it had earlier held that:

“Acquittal must follow if the evidence is such as to cause a reasonable doubt, because that is only another way of saying that the prosecution have failed to establish the case.”

Therefore when giving consideration to the effect that this information would have upon a criminal jury, the court deliberated in saying that when faced with such acute medical facts they saw no reason to suspect that the murder conviction would have been rendered unsustainable, and so with little more to debate the appeal was allowed and the conviction set aside in full, while the court reminded the parties that under normal circumstances:

“[D]eath resulting from any normal treatment employed to deal with a felonious injury may be regarded as caused by the felonious injury.”  

Collins v Wilcock

English Criminal Law

Collins v Wilcock
‘Parisian Life’ by Juan Luna

Most likely uncertain to many members of the general public, the difference between assault and battery are markedly different, as was established in a case involving a uniformed policewoman and a suspected prostitute, judged to be loitering for the purposes of unlawful solicitation.

In the summer of 1982, the now respondent was driving in her patrol car when herself and her colleague observed what appeared to be two prostitutes standing around in the street whilst conversing with two men for what was determined to be a negotiation of solicitation, upon which the respondent requested that the now appellant enter the car so they could question her, to which the appellant lawfully refused and proceeded to walk away.

It was at this point that the respondent left the vehicle and attempted to question the appellant again while in pursuit, to which the appellant told her unceremoniously to ‘fuck off’, a statement that caused the respondent to physically grab the appellant by the forearm so as to restrain her from walking further, and which in turn resulted in the appellant shouting again ‘just fuck off copper’ and scratching the respondent’s forearm with her fingernails; an action that led to the appellant’s arrest and subsequent charge of assaulting a police officer in the line of duty.

Having contended the offence before the then Metropolitan Stipendiary Magistrate presiding in the Marylebone office, London, the appellant argued that the respondent was at the time of her physical exertion, acting beyond the scope of her police powers, while the respondent countered that she had acted lawfully under the Street Offences Act 1959, in which s. 1(1) which read that:

“It shall be an offence for a common prostitute to loiter or solicit in a street or public place for the purpose of prostitution.”

And s. 3, which further reads that:

“A constable may arrest without warrant anyone he finds in a street or public place and suspects, with reasonable cause, to be committing an offence under this section.”

To which the magistrate held the appellant guilty of the offence of assault, and fined her £50 under s. 51(1) of the Police Act 1964 while holding that:

“[I]n the circumstances the placing of her hand on [the defendant’s] arm to restrain her from moving away, yet again, was within her duty and was not unreasonable.”

A decision which the appellant challenged in the High Court, holding as before that the respondent had acted unlawfully when attempting to deny the appellant her freedom to leave when questioned.

Here, the court first looked to Cole v Turner, in which the Court of the Kings Bench had held that:

“The least touching of another is battery.”

Which was a principle later expanded upon in William Blackstone’s ‘Commentaries on the Laws of England’ (1830), in which it was stated clearly that:

“[T]he law cannot draw the line between different degrees of violence, and therefore totally prohibits the first and lowest stage of it; every man’s person being scared, and no other having a right to meddle with it, in any the slightest manner.”

And so noting that assault is an act that causes another person to ‘apprehend the infliction of immediate unlawful force’ upon them, battery requires the ‘actual infliction of unlawful force’, and so on this occasion the court held that when attempting to restrain the appellant, the respondent had acted outside her official powers when there had in that instance, been no grounds for any arrest, but instead the subjective compulsion to prevent the appellant from exercising her civil rights through the use of battery, thus the appeal was upheld, while the court held that:

“[E]verybody is protected not only against physical injury but against any form of physical molestation” 

And that: 

“[R]easonable force may be used in self-defence or for the prevention of crime.”