What is the M’Naghten Rule ?

What is the M’Naghten Rule :- When defending a client in a criminal case, a lawyer can employ a number of different criminal defence tactics. It is not, however, simple to invoke the insanity defence, despite the portrayal of it in the entertainment industry. A criminal defendant must satisfy the jurisdiction's definition of legal insanity in order to be found not guilty by reason of insanity.

What is the M’Naghten Rule ?
What is the M’Naghten Rule

Background of M’Naghten Rule :-

In honour of Daniel M’Naghten, who attempted to assassinate Sir Robert Peel, the prime minister of England in 1843, the M’Naghten rule on criminal insanity was named. M’Naghten believed Peel intended to murder him, therefore he attempted to shoot Peel but instead shot and murdered Edward Drummond, Peel’s secretary. Medical professionals attested to M’Naghten’s psychosis, and the jury declared him not guilty due to insanity.

The House of Lords in Parliament issued an order to the Lords of Justice of the Queen’s Bench to define criminal insanity strictly in response to public outcry over the decision. In compliance, the Lords of Justice ruled that insanity may only be used as a defence against criminal accusations if-

“The accused party was suffering from a mental illness at the time of the act, which prevented him from understanding the nature or significance of what he was doing, or, if he did, from realising that what he was doing was wrong. (M’Naghten v. Queen, 8 Eng. Rep. 718 [1843])”

What is the M’Naghten Rule?

An examination used to establish if a defendant facing criminal charges was sane at the time of the alleged offence and, thus, accountable for the crime.

Criminal insanity is determined by the M’Naghten rule. A criminal defendant is not guilty by reason of insanity under the M’Naghten rule if, at the time of the alleged criminal act, the defendant was so deranged that she was unaware of the nature or quality of her actions, or if she was aware of them but was so deranged that she was unaware that what she was doing was wrong.

This test essentially determines whether the accused knew the nature of the offence or recognised right from wrong at the time the crime was committed. Consequently, one of these two unique requirements must be satisfied for a defendant to be deemed legally insane under this test.

Courts may differ in how they apply this test depending on whether the “wrong” in question is a legal or moral wrong (or both). Furthermore, several states have done away with the standard that labels a criminal as legally insane if they fail to comprehend the full consequences of their actions.

Insanity Case Examples Applying the M’Naghten Principle

The simplest approach to comprehend this kind of legal insanity is to look at a few instances when the rule is used in different situations.

Example 1: A man calmly waited for the police to arrive after killing his wife and daughter. His psychological condition prevented him from realising the wrongness of his illegal actions, according to three mental health professionals who testified. His sentencing to ten years in a mental health centre followed his finding of not guilty by reason of insanity.

Issues with the M’Naghten Rule

Many arguments have been made against this specific legal insanity test. There are others who contend that even when a defendant fits the legal definition of insanity, they may not always satisfy the medical standard, leading to the imposition of an obligatory medical care requirement.

Its failure to discriminate between defendants who pose a public danger and those who do not, as well as between transient mental illnesses and chronic disorders, is another point of criticism.

Lastly, some have contended that regardless of how significant a part the illness played in the incident, this criterion makes it far too simple for a defendant with a serious mental illness to avoid accountability for any offences.

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