HC Deb 18 January 1967 vol 739 cc440-4

4.8 p.m.

Dr. M. P. Winstanley (Cheadle)

I beg to move, That leave be given to bring in a Bill to widen the definition of insanity in relation to the criminal law and thereby replace the M'Naghten Rules; and for connected purposes. May I make it clear at the outset that it is not my—[Interruption.]

Mr. Speaker

Order. Will hon. Gentlemen please leave the Chamber quietly.

Dr. Winstanley

May I make it clear at the outset that it is not my intention here to enable my colleagues in the medical profession to usurp the prerogatives of the judiciary? Indeed, I am aware that they have difficulty enough already in coping with the existing burdens on their shoulders. Secondly, although I hope that a Measure like this would result in very much more humane treatment being accorded to certain mentally deranged criminals, it is also no part of my intention to place impediments in the way of the proper prosecution of the law.

My main object is to provide urgently needed protection both for the general public and for prison officers and to relieve them of dangers to which they are at present being unnecessarily subjected. The legal formula governing insanity in relation to the criminal law was laid down, of course, about 120 years ago, in another place, in the form of what are known as the M'Naghten Rules. These rules were formulated following the case of Daniel M'Naghten and they are still in force despite the fact that they have been almost constantly subjected to criticism and attack, not only by the medical profession but by lawyers and members of the general public.

I do not need to repeat the various attacks that have been made over the years, but it is interesting to note that as long ago as 1874 the noble Lord, Lord Bramwell, giving evidence to the Select Committee on the Homicide Law Amendment Bill in June, 1874, said that the present law lays down such a definition of madness that nobody is hardly ever really mad enough to be within it. That is the kind of view which has been held by the many people who have frequently criticised this form of the law. We had much criticism at the time of the Royal Commission on Capital Punishment, since when we have had a general acceptance of the fact that the M'Naghten Rules, while they provide a basis, do not necessarily provide a satisfactory one.

Briefly, the important rules—two of them; there are others which are less important today—provide that a person can only be found insane in relation to a criminal act if, first, he is unaware of the nature and quality of the act which he is doing, or, secondly, if he is so aware, that he is not aware that that particular act is wrong.

Many people have held that we should alter the law to embody provisions to cover the type of mental abnormality which could result in a person, while he was aware of what he was doing, or while he might be aware that what he was doing was wrong, was none the less subject to an uncontrollable impulse or otherwise unable to control his behaviour.

It is true that we had an improvement in this direction in the Homicide Act, 1957, which brought in a new principle, that of diminished responsibility, and made it possible in the case of a person accused of murder for the charge to be reduced to manslaughter if the person was found to be suffering from disease of the mind such as to make him unable to control his actions. How satisfactory this is I rather doubt. Indeed, I am inclined to agree with an eminent authority, Dr. Howard Jones, who, in his excellent book "Crime and the Penal System", says: Many will feel that a procedure by which insane persons can be sentenced to prison for manslaughter is hardly a satisfactory final solution. I would add that it is certainly not a satisfactory solution for prison officers who then have the responsibility to care for this mentally deranged person. They have neither the training nor the necessary skill to deal with these people, nor are they properly equipped so to do. This is no criticism of our penal institutions. It is no criticism of the quality of our prison officers. It is merely that they are not people who have received a training in the management of insane persons.

Murder is not the only question involved here, but I want to say a word or two about it, because I believe that we have had a change in relation to this problem with the abolition of capital punishment. At the time when capital punishment for murder was in force, there was a fairly strong incentive for an accused person to plead insanity if there was any question of mental abnormality, and he did so plead. But now that capital punishment has been abolished the same incentive does not exist, and there is evidence that a person would prefer to be sentenced to imprisonment rather than to a Broadmoor-type of institution, which would be the case had he been found insane.

I would remind the House of a case which is familiar among hon. Members. Indeed, one hon. and learned Member was involved in it. It was the case of a young man, of 17 years of age, relatively recently convicted of murder. At the time, there was grave doubt as to his mental state, and it was suggested by several persons that he suffered from schizophrenia. However, he did not plead insanity, understandably. He would not have been executed in view of his age and presumably preferred prison to Broadmoor. He went to prison, and within two years he had murdered another prisoner. It was a case in which our second line of defence, that of the various methods of examination of prisoners prior to and following sentence had broken down. It is no criticism of the people involved.

I want now to move to a slightly different problem, and a rather important one, that of the question of violent crime which does not involve murder. Let us take the case of Christie, who was clearly M'Naghten sane, knew what he was doing and the quality of his act and knew that it was wrong. He was executed. Had capital punishment not been in force he would not have been executed but would have been sent to prison. I accept the assurances that the Home Secretary has given the House that very careful consideration is now given to these people and, therefore, they will not be released until they are considered wholly safe to be released.

But if Christie's particular peculiarities and mental abnormalities had resulted not in the death of his victims, but in those victims being maimed, he would undoubtedly not have produced a plea of insanity, and the prosecution would not have had the right to introduce that plea, and then he would have had to be sentenced to prison for a violent offence; and, necessarily, on the present basis of our law, the sentence would have had to be a finite sentence which would come to an end with his release.

If it were possible for the prosecution to introduce this factor of insanity, it would then be possible to sentence a potentially violent criminal, who suffers from an abnormality of the mind to such an extent that he is liable to repeat his offences, to Broadmoor. This would be both more humane and certainly very much safer for the general public and also for the prison officers. I am informed that there is no record of a person having been released from Broad-moor and repeated this particular type of offence. One realises, however, that some have escaped and repeated the offence, but we are aware that people escape from other institutions. The incidence of repetition of crime after release from the Broadmoor-type of institutions should be compared with the extent of repetition following release from prisons, which is so common as to be the rule rather than the exception.

With a case such as a criminal psychopath, it ought to be possible for the prosecution to introduce the factor of the person's mental state, and, if necessary, to be able to sentence him to Broadmoor so that he will not be released until such time as he is found safe for release. For the criminal psychopath, this means until he has matured. Under the present system, a judge has to guess how long this period will be, and his guess is necessarily limited, because the length of sentence may be prescribed by law.

To put this right the court must be permitted as of right to pronounce upon the accused's mental state. It is not a new responsibility. The court already has to make its decision if the defence introduces the question. Sometimes it has to adjudicate on whether an accused person is mute of malice or unable to plead and so on. I believe that if the right were given to our courts to introduce the question of insanity and if, at the same time, the definition of insanity were widened to include uncontrollable behaviour, we should arrive at a situation in which we should be able both to protect the public and to protect prison officers from the dangers to which they are at present exposed.

I have discussed this matter with members of the medical profession, who agree entirely, and with many members of the legal profession, who also agree, and I have found that nobody opposes the idea. I very much hope that the House will give me leave to introduce the Bill.

Question put and agreed to.

Bill ordered to be brought in by Dr. Winstanley, Mr. S. C. Silkin, Mr. Carlisle, and Mr. Hooson.