Monday, 16 October 2017

"Victoria" TV series ~ Daniel M'Naghten

Daniel M'Naghten
The second series of the television programme "Victoria" ended on Sunday 15th October.  (There is to be an extra episode at Christmas).  At times, the series touched upon some of the great issues of those days.

Victoria (1819-1901) was Queen from June 1837 until her death on 22nd January 1901.  The final episode of Series 2 touched upon the Parliamentary struggle for the repeal of the "Corn Laws" which prevented imports of grain and therefore had come to protect wealthy landowners.  A poem of the time summarised the situation: "Ye coop us up, and tax our bread, And wonder why we pine; But ye are fat, and round, and red, And fill'd with tax-bought wine."

The Corn Laws were repealed during the premiership of Robert Peel (1788-1850).  Peel's private secretary was the civil servant Edward Drummond (1792-1843).  Drummond was shot by Daniel M'Naghten (1813-1865) whose name still lives on in English criminal law due to the much-criticised M'Naghten Rules which set out the requirements to establish a defence of "insanity."  Drummond was actually shot from behind and he died of complications which arose following surgery to remove the "leaden bullet" fired from M'Naghten's gun.

M'Naghten had mistaken Drummond for Robert Peel and, in March 1843, he was tried for murder at the Old Bailey and defended by Alexander Cockburn who successfully argued that his client suffered from delusions of persecution such that he lost all restraint over his actions. The outcome of the trial was that M'Naghten was detained under the Criminal Lunatics Act 1800 and remained in detention until his death.   In 1875, Alexander Cockburn (1802-1880) became the first Lord Chief Justice of England and Wales.  (No compulsory retirement ages in those days)!

The M'Naghten verdict was debated in the House of Lords (6th and 13th March 1843) and it was decided to take the opinion of the Judges on the law governing such cases.  On the 19th June 1843, the Judges attended the House of Lords; when 5 "abstract questions" were put.  Those questions and the answers may be seen at M'Naghten Rules (1843) 10 Clark and Finnelly 200, (1843) 8 ER 718, [1843-60] All ER Rep 229.  The answers, on behalf of the judges, were set out by the Chief Justice of the Common Pleas (Sir Nicholas Tindal).  Common Pleas was a forerunner of the modern High Court of Justice created in 1875.

Today, at a trial in the Crown Court, a successful defence of insanity would result in a "special verdict" of not guilty by reason of insanity - Criminal Procedure (Insanity) Act 1964.  This is interesting because the M'Naghten rules refer to a verdict of not guilty on the ground of insanity.  The Trial of Lunatics Act 1883 altered the verdict to guilty but insane.  The 1964 Act changed this and brought in the modern special verdict - not guilty by reason of insanity." 

M'Naghten's argument would almost certainly not have saved him from the gallows had the rules which now bear his name existed at the time of his trial.  If M'Naghten had been convicted of murder he would have been hanged in public.  The last public execution was in 1868 at Newgate and the practice was abolished by the Capital Punishment (Amendment) Act 1868 which required further executions to be in prisons.  Capital punishment for murder was abolished in 1965 (last executions 13th August 1964) and, under Protocol 13 to the European Convention on Human Rights, it is no longer permissible even in time of war.

The M'Naghten Rules have haunted our criminal law to the present time.  They were recently considered by the Law Commission - see their 2013 Project.  That report came to a provisional conclusion that the common law rules on insanity should be abolished and replaced by a defence of "not criminally responsible by reason of recognised medical condition."

The M'Naghten Rules have had influence in most, if not all, common law jurisdictions - see, for example, New Zealand Crimes Act 1961 section 23. In Canada, the Criminal Code section 16 provides for a defence of mental disorder but the wording of this is based on M'Naghten.  The defence was raised in the Luka Magnotta ("body parts") case but it was rejected by the jury.  Magnotta was sentenced to life imprisonment.

Insanity as a defence applies to the time of the act in question.  As such, it has to be distinguished from Fitness to Plead which arose in the case of the late Lord Greville Janner (1928-2015) and was discussed at some length on this blog - HERE.  

Other posts:

Fitness to Plead - 28th October 2010

Breivik - would he have a defence of insanity in English Law? 27th July 2011.

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