Insanity defence

Gavel Male JudgeThe insanity defence differs slightly from other defences as it relies heavily on proving the defendant was not responsible for their actions (rather than just negating intent), and was not responsible because of very specific issues with their mental health.

Under this defence, the defendant’s legal team will put forward a case based on evaluations by forensic health professionals. Mental health assessment tests vary from country to country.

In the UK, traditionally the use of the insanity defence has been fairly rare. But since the Insanity and Unfitness to Plead Act of 1991, there has been a slow increase in the use of this defence.

It’s worth noting that there is an important distinction between competency and criminal responsibility. Competency deals with the defendant’s ability to make informed decisions about their case and defence, as outlined in the 1991 Act. Criminal responsibility, however, is concerned with the defendant’s mental condition at the time the offence was committed.

The other thing to remember is the difference between a plea of diminished capacity and a plea of insanity. The former is essentially a plea for a lesser crime – so a plea of manslaughter, for instance, rather than murder is a plea of diminished capacity. Only a plea of insanity is seen by the courts as a full defence and means the defendant could be found not guilty.

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