Criminal law covers the area of crimes and is there to maintain law and order. A crime refers to a breach of one or more rule of law. The society believes that individuals should be held responsible for their actions, especially when those actions constitutes a crime that would endanger the safety of today’s society. In the eye of the law, in order to paint an individual as guilty, the prosecution must prove that the defendant committed an actus reus had mens rea at the same time. Actus reus refers to a guilty act and mens rea means a guilty state of mind. When crimes have been committed, a selection of defenses may be brought into by a defense attorney in order to negate a guilty verdict. In law, it is known that an individual should not be held criminally liable if at the time of committing the crime, he was suffering from a mental impairment which meant that he lacked the capacity to commit said crime.
As such, there is a selection of mental condition defenses that may be used.Two of these defenses include the defense of insanity and automatism. Both the defense of insanity and automatism are known to be closely related, which brought about the question of whether or not they should be separate defenses; this will discussed throughout the course of this essay.English law allows those accused of a crime to not be convicted as on the grounds that he was ‘insane’; this is knows as the defense on the basis of insanity, also known as insane automatism. “The defense is concerned with D’s legal responsibility at the time of the alleged offense, and not simply with whether D was medically insane at that time.” Due to this, it would be irrelevant as to whether or not the defendant’s mental condition was normal at the time of the trial. It should be noted that this defense refers to insanity in the legal sense rather than in the psychological or medical sense.
It is also a partial defense meaning that the defendant will not be granted a full acquittal. Furthermore, unlike automatism, insanity is a result of particular conditions which amount to a disease of the mind.The defense if insanity is covered in the M’Naghten Rules. Daniel M’Naghten was acquitted on the basis of insanity due to this mental condition at the time of his crime. According to the M’Naghten Rules, every man is presumed to be sane and to possess a sufficient degree of reason to be responsible for his crimes unless proved otherwise. In 1983, the House of Lords held 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 as 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.” The defendant bears the burden of proving on the balance of probabilities and when satisfied, the rules lead to a special verdict of “not guilty by reason of insanity” and would leave the defendant under the control of the court. The sentencing powers can be seen in section 3 of the Criminal Procedure (Insanity and Unfitness to Plead) Act 1991.
Automatism, similarly to insanity, is a common law defense available for all crimes. Unlike insanity, however, automatism is a full defense and will lead to the full acquittal of the defendant. This defense applies to a situation where a defendant is not legally insane but due to some external factors, he was unable to control his actions which resulted in a crime. As the act is not voluntary and/or the defendant was not conscious of his actions, it can be argued that there is a lack of actus or mens rea and thus the defendant may plead not guilty and be acquitted. Unlike the defense of insanity where the prosecution must prove on the balance of probabilities, the prosecution needs to prove beyond reasonable doubt for the defense of automatism.The M’Naghten Rules have proved to be difficult to apply in modern times due to the interpretation of the “defect of reason” element.
For example, as seen in Clarke where the defendant left the supermarket which items she didn’t pay for, the judges ruled that in order to use the defense of insanity, the defendant’s powers of reasoning must be impaired; should he merely failed to use those powers, he wouldn’t be able to use the defense. In Clarke, the defendant was said to be ‘absent-minded’ and thus wasn’t able to use the defense of insanity. Another example can be seen in Kemp where the defendant irrationally attacked his wife with a hammer without any motives. It was later discovered that he was suffering from arteriosclerosis which caused a temporary loss of consciousness at the time of the crime. The defendant didn’t want to use the defense of insanity and instead used the defense of automatism.
The court rejected it stating that his condition amounted to a disease of the mind. Furthermore, the defence of insanity doesn’t recognize compulsions or ones inability to control their emotions; Professor Ashworth has noted that, “some forms of mental disorder impair practical reasoning and the power of control over actions”.Insanity isn’t the only defense which offers a narrow scope.
The defense of automatism, for example, does not recognize partial loss of self control, similarly to the defense of insanity which does not recognize failure to use powers of reasoning. In Broome v Perkins, the defendant who was suffering from hypoglycemia drove home erratically from work and hit a car during the journey. He wasn’t able to recall the journey as he was presumed to be unconscious. Despite this, he was able to exercise some voluntary control over his actions and thus the defense of automations was not available to him.
From the cases above, it is evident that certain areas of both defenses are indeed similar and thus it can be argued that perhaps both the defense of insanity and automatism should be made into one in order to eliminate such narrow interpretations of the statute which will then lead to injustice. Despite this, however, it should be noted that there are differences between the two defenses, the most notable one being the internal and external factors. These were developed due to “social protection”, according to Professor Ashworth; there is a need to protect the public from the risk of further harm and this is done by ensuring that the defense of automatism is not available to those who are deemed to be unfit to use said defense.In conclusion, although both the defense of automatism and insanity are similar, there are some factors which distinguishes the two defenses which is there to protect society from further harm as outlined in the previous section.
As such, having the two as one defense may prove to be disadvantageous and lead to injustice. Instead of making the defenses into one, perhaps a reform of both defenses may prove to be more useful.