Comparing and Contrasting the Differences of Insanity, Automatism and Diminished Responsibility

Comparing and Contrasting the Differences of Insanity, Automatism and Diminished Responsibility

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There are two theories that justify punishment: retributivism according to which punishment ensures that justice is done, and utilitarianism which justifies punishment because it prevents further harm being done. The essence of defences is that those who do not freely choose to commit an offence should not be punished, especially in those cases where the defendant's actions are involuntary. All three of these defences concern mental abnormalities. Diminished responsibility is a partial statutory defence and a partial excuse. Insanity and automatism are excuses and defences of failure of proof. While automatism and diminished responsibility can only be raised by the defendant, insanity can be raised by the defence or the prosecution. It can be raised by the prosecution when the defendant pleads diminished responsibility or automatism. The defendant may also appeal against the insanity verdict. With insanity and diminished responsibility, the burden of proof is on the defendant. With automatism the burden of proof is on the prosecution and they must negate an automatism claim beyond reasonable doubt.
There are two types of automatism: sane and insane. Sane automatism is caused by an external factor and insane automatism by an internal factor. Automatism occurs when the defendant's conscious mind is not connected with the part of mind that controls actions. Insanity can be used where a disease of mind prevented the defendant from reasoning. Automatism and insanity excuse the defendant because his state of mind was such that he cannot be regarded as responsible for his actions. Both of these defences apply to all offences. Unlike automatism and insanity, diminished responsibility may be caused by external or internal factors ...

... middle of paper ... able to control his actions. These defences result in very different results for the defendant: diminished responsibility resulting in voluntary manslaughter, insanity in a special verdict, and automatism in an outright acquittal.

Works Cited

Bratty v Attorney-General for NI [1963] AC 386 (HL)
Byrne [1960] 3 All ER 1
Kemp [1957] 1 QB 399
Quick [1973] 1 QB 910
R v Clarke [1972] 1 All ER 219
R v Sullivan [1984] AC 156
The M’Naghten Case [1843] 10 Cl & Fin 200

Secondary sources
Gary B. Melton, John Petrila, Norman G. Poythress, Psychological Evaluations for the Court: A Handbook for Mental Health Professionals and Lawyers, Guilford Publications, 3rd edition 2007
L awrie Reznek, Evil or ill? Justifying the insanity defence, New York, Routledge, 1998
William Wilson, Criminal Law; Doctrine and Theory, 3rd edition 2008, Pearson Education Limited

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