Crime XXXVII – Diminished Responsibility VI

In R v Hendy (2006) the accused a 16-year-old had without doubt some sort of mental impairment as a result of a head injury that he suffered from as a child. He was callous and reckless and gave little thought to his own safety and at times had endangered his own life. On the night of the incident the accused had been drinking heavily and had attempted to take his own life but he was stopped by friends. That night once he’d returned home, still drunk, he walked out into an alley with a knife and stabbed a man to death. The accused was arrested.

At the trial it was held that the accused did not have to show that the mental impairment would have caused him to kill, under the circumstances, as per R v Egan and the court followed the decision in R v Dietschmann (2003). In addition to that if the accused satisfies the conditions of S. 2 of the Homicide Act 1957 the verdict that would be returned is that of manslaughter.

When it comes to diminished responsibility the more bizarre the crime the higher the chances or the probability that the accused will have a conviction of murder reduced to that of manslaughter and the reason for this is that a normal man or an ordinary man or a reasonable man for the matter will not be able to envisage these crimes, let alone commit them and therefore it stands to reason that the accused was most likely suffering from some sort of mental impairment or damage to the mind, at the time he or she committed the act:-

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

In R v Fenton (1975), the accused after he’d been drinking heavily shot a policeman and drove off in his car to a club where he shot and killed more people, 3 more to be precise. The accused was charged with murder and he raised the defense of diminished responsibility. Because the accused was suffering from an inherent mental disability he was convicted for manslaughter instead of murder.

Someone who suffers from a mental illness or other conditions like acute depression can also raise the defense of diminished responsibility if the killing was done on compassionate grounds. In Price (1971), The Times, 22 December 1971, the accused allowed his terminally ill son to drown. The accused was arrested and charged but he was convicted not of murder but of manslaughter and the killing of his son was not seen as murder because the accused had allowed him to drown out of compassion and the accused’s decision was linked to his long-term depression.

In R v Sanderson (1994) the accused hit his girlfriend over the head with a wooden stave. At the trial the defense adduced evidence to show that the accused suffered from acute paranoia, in addition to being a drug user, and the paranoia coupled with the drugs had prompted the accused to kill his girlfriend. The accused was tried and it was held that the accused was guilty only of manslaughter and despite the fact that he was on drugs the accused’s abnormality of mind was inherent and something that he had suffered from since he was child

The defense of diminished responsibility is different to the defense of insanity and the former is reliant on satisfying the conditions of S2 of the Homicide Act 1957 while the latter is reliant on the M’Naghten rules as per R v Rose (1961) (Privy Council).

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. The accused appealed and the appeal was allowed.

Finally, Battered Women’s Syndrome (BWS) is a mental illness that was recognized as such in Britain in 1994 and an accused who commits murder while suffering from BWS can successfully raise the defense of diminished responsibility see R v Hobson (1997).

Copyright © 2018 by Dyarne Ward

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