Crime XXXII – Diminished Responsibility I

The defense of diminished responsibility is raised when an accused is tried for murder and the defense puts forward the argument that at the time the accused committed the act he or she had lost, albeit temporarily, his or her ability to think and reason. It could either be due to a permanent illness see R v Smith (Morgan) (2000) or it could be due to an illness that makes itself obvious or apparent in temporary fits and seizures see R v Campbell (1997).

In R v Dunbar (1958) the accused entered a room occupied by an 84-year-old lady while she was sleeping to steal some money. The lady woke up and the accused fearing that the lady would recognize him picked up a bottle of lemonade that was close by and hit her with it and the injuries that she sustained subsequently led to her death. The accused was tried and convicted for murder.

At the trial, the accused raised the defense of diminished responsibility and he appealed on the grounds that the trial judge had misdirected the jury on the standard of proof required to raise the defense of diminished responsibility. His appeal was successful and it was held that the standard of proof required to establish diminished responsibility was “a preponderance of probability”.

Intoxication or the state of being drunk is not sufficient to raise the defense of diminished responsibility. In R v Di Duca (1959) the accused for a conviction of murder raised the defense of diminished responsibility contending that the state of being drunk had reduced his capacity to think and reason. The judge refused to accept that drunkenness fell under the category of diminished responsibility and the jury convicted accordingly. The accused appealed and the appeal was dismissed. The accused was sentenced to death.

In R v Byrne (1960) the accused strangled a young woman to death in the YMCA. After killing her he mutilated her body. At his trial, evidence was submitted that the accused suffered from an impairment of mind that induced sexual perverseness. He had been suffering from the condition since a young age. The jury convicted for murder and the accused appealed.

The appeal was allowed. Abnormality of the mind covers all areas and aspects of the mind and it need not be equated to or does not need to correspond with madness. The mind is vast, and to date science has not yet uncovered its full potential and neither has it been able to provide a complete and exhaustive list of mental illnesses. Therefore, a lot depends on the facts. The burden of proving or establishing diminished responsibility lies with the defense.

S. 2 of the Homicide Act (1957) sheds more light on the subject. S. 2 (1) A person (“D”) who kills or is a party to the killing of another is not to be convicted of murder if D was suffering from an abnormality of mental functioning which –

(a) arose from a recognized medical condition,

(b) substantially impaired D’s ability to do one or more of the things mentioned in subsection (1A), and

(c) provides an explanation for D’s acts and omissions in doing or being a party to the killing.

(1A) Those things are—

(a) to understand the nature of D’s conduct;

(b) to form a rational judgment;

(c) to exercise self-control.

S.2 (2) On a charge of murder, it shall be for the defense to prove that the person charged is by virtue of this section not liable to be convicted of murder and S. 2 (3) a person who but for this section would be liable, whether as principal or as accessory, to be convicted of murder shall be liable instead to be convicted of manslaughter.

In R v Rose (1961) (Privy Council) the accused was a prisoner who stabbed a supervisor for refusing to give him the key to the gates. He was tried and the judge directed the jury in accordance with the rules for insanity (the M’Naghten rules). The accused was convicted and the accused appealed.

The appeal was allowed. It was decided that an accused may well be able to appreciate the gravity and consequences of his act and may know that the act was wrong but despite that he is unable to control or curb his actions.

This type of mental impairment (R v Rose (1961) (Privy Council)) is similar to that of those who suffer from impulse control disorders. Kleptomaniacs for example are unable to stop themselves from stealing despite the fact that they know the act is wrong and more often than not they are afraid of getting caught but despite that they continue to steal.

Copyright © 2018 by Dyarne Ward

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