Changing legal perceptions of mental disorders in defendants

October 10, 2013
Changing legal perceptions of mental disorders in defendants

The Law Commissioner for England and Wales will join a number of experts at Northumbria University, Newcastle next week to debate the ways in which the criminal justice system recognises mental disorders in defendants.

Professor David Ormerod QC is one of a number of world-leading legal, academic and medical who will consider how the courts recognise and categorise insanity and liability in cases.

The conference, jointly organised by Northumbria University's Centre for Evidence and Criminal Justice Studies and the Law Department of the University of Sunderland, has been convened to highlight a growing issue in the ways in which the legal and psychiatric communities categorise mental health problems in defendants.

Experts from the USA, Australia, New Zealand and Germany will join national and local representatives from the medical, legal and academic sectors to share best practice from other legal jurisdictions.

The Law Commission is currently considering the present law on fitness to plead and the Commission recently released a discussion paper assessing the rules that govern the insanity defence, also referred to as insane automatism, which date from 1843.

These rules have been widely criticised for a number of reasons, including the use of 'insane' as a descriptor of mental illness, without any regards to those who have learning difficulties or disabilities.

Nicola Wake, Senior Lecturer in Law at Northumbria University and co-organiser of the conference, explained: "A significant problem in this area is the conflict between legal and psychiatric conceptions of and the level of responsibility required in order for an individual to be deemed criminally responsible for his or her conduct.

"The conference will provide legal and medical practitioners with the opportunity to consider issues relating to a defendant's fitness to plead in addition to the defences of insanity and diminished responsibility.

"Lawyers are hesitant to raise the issue of pleading insanity with their clients in case it breaks down their relationship, and defendants are wary of pleading insanity as a defence because of the stigma of this label and confusion of what this will entail for their case. However, there is a real difference of terminology from a psychiatric perspective, which can create a problem for practitioners."

Professor Ormerod QC added: "In publishing the Discussion Paper on Insanity and Automatism this year we were seeking to promote public debate on this important aspect of the and options for reform. I am delighted that Northumbria and Sunderland universities have organised a conference attracting such an eminent array of speakers from academia and practice to engage in just such a debate."

Ben Livings, Senior Lecturer in Law at the University of Sunderland, "It is important that medico-legal experts work together to develop a holistic approach. We hope that this conference will help the Law Commission and the legal sector to create a better understanding of, and framework around, mental disorder within the criminal justice system."

Professor Alan Reed, Associate Dean for Research and Innovation at Northumbria University said: "We are delighted to host this significant international at the Faculty of Business and Law, Northumbria University utilising our outstanding venue facilities. It represents the essence of our strategic development and impact in terms of world-leading and internationally excellent research collaborations, inter-disciplinarity, internationalisation and demarcates the global reach of our Centre of Research Excellence in Evidence and Criminal Justice Studies."

Explore further: Anders Breivik is guilty: the fine line between bad and mad

Related Stories

Anders Breivik is guilty: the fine line between bad and mad

August 28, 2012

One of the most high profile court decisions on "madness" and crime has concluded. In a unanimous decision, the Oslo District Court in Norway has convicted Anders Behring Breivik of the murder of 77 people in the streets ...

Recommended for you

Mathematical framework explains diverse plant stem forms

March 23, 2017

It is well known that as plants grow, their stems and shoots respond to outside signals like light and gravity. But if plants all have similar stimuli, why are there so many different plant shapes? Why does a weeping willow ...

How chewing like a cow helped early mammals thrive

March 23, 2017

You probably haven't given much thought to how you chew, but the jaw structure and mechanics of almost all modern mammals may have something to do with why we're here today. In a new paper published this week in Scientific ...

New study shakes the roots of the dinosaur family tree

March 22, 2017

More than a century of theory about the evolutionary history of dinosaurs has been turned on its head following the publication of new research from scientists at the University of Cambridge and Natural History Museum in ...

'Pay to publish' schemes rampant in science journals

March 22, 2017

Dozens of scientific journals appointed a fictive scholar to their editorial boards on the strength of a bogus resume, researchers determined to expose "pay to publish" schemes reported Wednesday.

0 comments

Please sign in to add a comment. Registration is free, and takes less than a minute. Read more

Click here to reset your password.
Sign in to get notified via email when new comments are made.