Before the establishment of the M’Naghten rule, it was not clear whether or not an insane individual could be judged as being guilty if the individual was accused of any criminal offence. The M'Naghten Rule refers to a rule that was established in 1843 in a case that involved Daniel M’Naghten and the then England Prime minister Sir Robert Peel, (Goldstein, 1980). The rule can be said to be test for criminal insanity. It is important to note that as per this rule on the basis of insanity reasons, the defendant cannot be judged as being guilty more especially if at the time claimed criminal act, the defendant was in a confused state such that he/she was not aware of the character and quality of his/her actions; and if incase he/she was aware of the character and quality of his/her actions, he/she was confused to an extent of not knowing that he/she was doing a wrong act.
The case rose from an attempted assassination of the prime minister of England Sir Robert Peel by M’Naghten in 1843. Therefore, the rule is named after the defendant Daniel M’Naghten in this particular case. In this case, M’Naghten shot at Peel but he missed and shot dead Peel’s Secretary, Edward Drummond instead thinking that it was Peel. At this particular time, M’Naghten was a paranoid schizophrenic that caused him the hallucination that he was being prosecuted, (Goldstein, 1980). It was surprising to see M’Naghten being held as not guilty on the grounds that his thinking capacity was questionable at that particular moment when he committed the crime. As a result of the outcome of this case, the House of Lords saw the need to institute the standards for insanity defense.
Objective of the rule
The major objective of the establishment of this rule was to limit the insanity defenses to cognitive insanity, which is an inability to differentiate wrong from right, (Elliott, 1996). Other tests have, been formulated to supplement this rule since its establishment. Such tests include the Volitional insanity which is usually experienced by mentally healthy individuals who are unbalanced mentally at the time of the illegal action such that they are not in a position to confirm their action to the law.
Assumption of sanity and burden of proof
Under the M’Naghten Rule, an assumption is made that a man is sane and that in order for the insanity defense to be applicable; it must be proved beyond reasonable doubt that at the time when the act was committed, the defendant was under a defect for instance of reason, from mind diseases, and also that he/she was not aware of the nature and quality of the act that he/she was committing, or if he/she was aware of the act he/she was not aware that it was not right, (Goldstein, (1980). The burden of proofing this issue of sanity is on the party that is relying upon it.
In order to determine whether the defendant can separate right from wrong he must be aware of the difference between the two. Therefore, before the defendant is convicted of a crime, it must be determined if he/she can be able to differentiate between wrong and right by applying this principle. It might seem as being easy and straightforward, but when the M’Naghten standard is applied it becomes very difficult and challenging, (Reznek, 1997). For example, it is very challenging when dealing with an issue that involves the determination of whether the defendant was aware of his/ her acts were wrong or whether he/she had the knowledge that laws prohibiting such acts existed.
However, this test has been highly the M’Naghten test have been highly criticized. This criticism is based on the fact that this test only focuses on the cognitive ability of the defendant. The test also fails to address such issues on how to deal with those defendants who knew that they were committing an illegal act but were not in a position to control their urge to do the same act. Besides, ways of evaluating and assigning responsibilities for emotional compulsion and factors are yet to be determined by the courts. Additionally, it becomes difficult for to find the defendant not guilty by insanity reason, due to the inflexible nature of the cognitive standard.
Disease of the mind
A condition it is to be decided whether it is a disease of mind or not as per the rules of ordinary interpretation and not from the medical point of view. Under this category of diseases are those diseases which cause a malfunctioning of the mind and they not necessarily need not be brain diseases themselves. Examples of these conditions include; arteriosclerosis as it was held in the case R v Kemp in 1957, (Fersch, 2005). In this case, the defendant attacked his wife with a hammer at the moment when he was suffering from arteriosclerosis. It was held that the defendant was not guilty as this was a disease of the mind.
Another example can be found in the case of R v Quick & Paddison in 1973. In this case the defendant who was a diabetic committed an assault on the plaintiff. At the moment of the offence the defendant was in a state of hypoglycaemia which was a result of the insulin that he took, lack of eating and also the alcohol that he had consumed. It was held that this was not a disease of the mind because the condition was due to external factors. Additionally, the loss of control was foreseeable and as such there was lack of automatism.
Nature and quality of the act.
In M’Naghten Rule, the term nature and quality involves more than moral quality as it includes situations where the defendant is not aware of what he/she is physically doing. If a person commits an offence in result of an insane hallucination, the court is required to take the facts, as they were believed by the accused, (Hewitt & Regoli, 2009). R v Bell 1984 serves a good illustration for this argument. In this case the defendant demolished a van at the entry gates of a holiday camp on the belief that “it was a secret society in there” and thus, he did so under the instructions of God to do against it. It was held that; 1. The defendant was aware of his actions, 2. He was not in an insane or automatism state. 3. The fact that he believed he was instructed by God to do the act explains the motive of the action and this did not deter him from being aware that the act was wrong from the legal point of view.
Knowledge that the act was wrong
The term “wrong” in this context refers to a legal wrong and not a moral wrong. In order for this requirement to be met, it must be established that the defendant was unaware the action that he committed was legally wrong at the time of the offence.
The rule has been criticized from different perspectives. To begin with is its effectiveness. It is important to note this rule does not differentiate defendants who are a public danger from those who are not, (Tebbit, 2005). Secondly, the burden of proof is shifted to the defense from the prosecution which is a conflict of the principle of Woolmington v. DPP. Lastly, the legal definition of insanity has not advanced since the establishment of the rule. Moreover, doctors have regarded this definition as being obsolete and misleading. This definition has led to absurdities in a number of circumstances for example, in some cases diabetes has been said to facilitate insanity defence if it causes hyperglycemia but not if it causes hypoglycemia.
Despite the criticisms of this rule, it can be noted that it has been helpful since its establishment in solving most of insanity cases. The rule has also contributed to the advancement of knowledge in cases of this nature. In order to address issues of current nature, slight changes can be established in the rule so has to fit the facts of the particular case at hand.
Elliott, C. (1996). The Rules of Insanity: Moral Responsibility and the Mentally Ill Offender. Boston: SUNY Press.
Fersch, L. E. (2005). Thinking About the Insanity Defense. Boston: iUniverse.
Goldstein, S.A. (1980). The insanity Defense. New Jersey: Greenwood Press.
Hewitt, J.D & Regoli, M. R. (2009). Exploring Criminal Justice: The Essentials. New York: Jones & Bartlett Learning.
Reznek, L. (1997). Evil or Ill?: Justifying the Insanity Defence. Washington: Routledge
Tebbit, M. (2005). Philosophy of Law: An Introduction. Washington: Routledge