M’Naghten rule is one of the important tests to determine the level of insanity of the offender while considering insanity as a defence for his offense. So, let’s look what is M’Naghten rule. The first famous legal test for insanity came in 1843 in the M’Naghten road. An Englishman Daniel M’Naghten shot and killed the secretary of the British believing that prime minister was conspiring against him. The court acquitted M’Naghten by reason of insanity and he was placed in a mental institution for the rest of his life. However, the case caused a public abroad and queen Victoria ordered the court to develop a strict test for insanity.
Accordingly, some questions were put before a bench of 14 judges in house of lords. From the answers given some rules were framed towards determination of criminal responsibility of insane and it is called as M’Naghten roots. The M’Naghten insanity defence is cognitive and focuses on the defendant’s awareness rather than the ability to control conduct. This rule was a standard to be applied by the jury after hearing medical testimony from the prosecution and defence expert.
As per this rule every man is to be presumed to be sane and to possess a sufficient degree of reason to be responsible for his crime until the contrary be proved. This rules state that in order to establish a defence on the ground of insanity, it must be clearly proved that at the time of committing the act the accused was labouring under such a defect of reason from disease of mind or did not know the nature and quality of the act he was doing or if he knew what he was doing that he did not know it was wrong.
So, the main element of M’Naghten rule is defect of reason from the disease of mind. So, let’s look what is defect of reason. Defect of reason means that defendant’s power of reasoning must be impaired. It must be more than momentary but can be temporary.
In R v Clarke, D went into a supermarket and took items without paying. And said she did not recall taking items and was suffering from absent mindedness caused by diabetes and depression. It couldn’t use defence of insanity. It shows that a defect of reason does not apply to those who have power of reasoning but fail to use them in moments of confusion of or absent-mindedness.
Another case is R v Windle, the defendant had killed his wife by administrating an overdose of aspirins to her. Medical evidence shows that although he was suffering from a mental illness, he knew that he was committing a crime. At the time of arrest, he said to the police that ‘I suppose they will hang me for this’. The trial judge refused to allow the defence of insanity to go to the jury on the ground that he had known his actions were unlawful.
Next is disease of mind, it is a legal term not a medical one. Any disease producing a malfunctioning of the mind can amount to a disease of the mind no matter when it originates. In R v Kemp, defendant was suffering from hardening of the arteries which restricted blood flow to brain. He had temporary loss of consciousness and attacked wife causing serious injury to her. In this case court found not guilty by reason of insanity.
Then in R v Sullivan case, the defendant suffered from Epilepsy and was known to react aggressively to persons trying to help you. He suffered an attack and caused grievous bodily heart to a person. House of lords held that epilepsy was a disease of mind because the mental faculty were impaired to the extent of causing a defect of reason. Court held not guilty by reason of insanity.
In R v Quick, defendant had taken insulin, but he was failed to eat. As a result, he was suffered from hypoglycaemia and he attacked a patient in the hospital where he worked as a nurse. The court said that it was not his diameter but the improper administration of insulin that caused his state. This was an external factor and not a disease of the mind. So in this case court made a distinction between internal factors and external factors which causing crime. So M’Naghten’s rule stressed an understandability of right and wrong and intellectual rather than a moral or effective definition dominated its formulation. Lack of control and irresistible drives or impulses were neglected. It was the test of knowledge or test of right and wrong. There are several criticisms against this rule like it is an outdated law that it did not give much importance to medical aspects of insanity and so on.
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