Palmer v Palmer

JurisdictionEngland & Wales
CourtCourt of Appeal
Judgment Date28 October 1954
Judgment citation (vLex)[1954] EWCA Civ J1028-3
Date28 October 1954

[1954] EWCA Civ J1028-3

In the Supreme Court of Judicature

Court of Appeal


The Lord Chief Justice of England (Lord Goddard)

Lord Justice Hodson and

Lord Justice Vaisey.

Lily Palmer
Rex Owen Arthur Palmer,

Mr. A. R. A. BELDAM (instructed by Messrs. Philio Hills & Co., Guildford) appeared on behalf of the Appellant Wife.

Mr. B. STUART HORNER (instructed by the Official Solicitor of the Supreme Court) appeared on behalf of the Respondent Husband.


This is an appeal from Mr. Commissioner Grazebrook, who dismissed the wife's Petition for divorce based on cruelty. The ground upon which he dismissed the Petition was that he found the husband was insane, and he considered that, on the evidence, the husband did not know what he was doing and was, therefore, applying what are generally called the McNaghten rules to the case. He came to the conclusion that he was hound to reject the Petition, because, of course, it has been decided, with regard to what I may call the mental element of cruelty, that is to say, the element of intention in it, that if a person was so insane that he did not know what he was doing or what he was doing was cruelty to his wife, that would not create the ground of cruelty.


The question of the application of what are commonly called the McNaghten rules was much discussed in the case of Swan v. Swan. The McNaghten rules, so often quoted, especially in murder cases, are these: from the point of view of the law, an act can be excused on the ground of insanity if the person charged did not know the nature or quality of the act, or if he did, he did not know that the act was wrong.


As a simple illustration of a man knowing the nature and quality of the act but not knowing it was wrong, I remember a case on circuit many years age where a man took a knife to his wife, but it was proved that he was a man who was devotedly attached to his wife and he believed that in using the knife upon her he was performing a surgical operation, whichhe thought was necessary to relieve a condition which he believed she was suffering from. Of course, he was insane, and although he knew the nature and quality of the act, he obviously did not know it was wrong, because although he knew he was putting the knife into his wife, he thought he was doing a kindly and beneficial act. It might be said there that he did not know the quality of the act, but, if I remember right, the case turned largely on the fact that he believed that he was doing a service to his wife.


This is no doubt a case in which one cannot help feeling sorry for the parties, because the wife was very fond of her husband and at first the marriage was a complete success, but, unhappily, in about the year 1946 this man began to show signs of mental disability, and between that time and 1952. when he was finally certified, and he has not been out of the mental hospital since, on two occasions he went into a mental home as a voluntary patient and discharged himself. During the occasions when he was at home, both before he went into the mental hospital as a voluntary patient and after he came out, he assaulted his wife on various occasions, and no one has suggested that the assaults he inflicted on his wife were not serious assaults, or assaults that would be enough to justify the Court, if they accepted the evidence, as no doubt the Commissioner did in this case, in granting the wife relief.


Apart from the evidence of the wife, there was the evidence of the Relieving Officer. A Relieving Officer does not profess to be a medical man, but it is his duty to go round, if he hears that people's mental condition is doubtful, to see them, because it may be that he must apply either for an ordinary certification, or even, in certain cases, for an emergency certification. The conversations he had with this man, when he went to see him, show, quite well, that this man recognised that he had from time to time ill-treated his wife. He struck her blows, because hebelieved she had been guilty of unfaithfulness to him, which, of course, she had not. The fact that he had these delusions or hallucinations all shows that he is a person of unsound mind; but the law does not in criminal cases - and I can see no reason to distinguish between criminal and divorce cases for this purpose - merely consider whether the man has got some defect of reason; the defect of reason must be such as to affect his responsibility. It is often said that the difference between lawyers and doctors, in these cases, is that the doctor looks only at the mental condition of the man and the lawyer looks at how that affects his responsibility to the law.


I should say, without hesitation, if I may, that I entirely agree with what Lord Justice Hodson said in Swan v. Swan, reported in 1953 Probate, page 258. In that case, although it was not necessary finally to decide it, he said he thought that both limbs of the McNaghten rules applied in these cases in considering whether or not a man who was insane was cruel to his wife, that is to say, he must know the nature and quality of the act, and if he does know it and knows that it is wrong, then he is responsible.


I think it is not always remembered, at any rate, perhaps by people who are not lawyers, that these cases which turn on hallucinations and delusions are no different, in fact, from the case of a man who may be perfectly sane and not the subject of delusions, but is acting under a mistake and, it may be, a genuine mistake.


For instance, to take the common case of a soldier returning from the war, one has had the...

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5 cases
  • Williams v Williams
    • United Kingdom
    • House of Lords
    • 27 June 1963
    ...(Willmer and Davies, L.JJ.; Donovan, L.J., dissenting) held that they were bound to hold that the M'Naghten Rules applied and bound by Palmer v. Palmer [1955] P. 4 to hold that the second limb of those rules applied as well as the first. If that were so, then this petition must be dismissed......
  • Breen v Breen
    • United Kingdom
    • Court of Session (Inner House - Second Division)
    • 13 July 1961
    ...v. SteuartUNK, (1870) 8 Macph. 821; Inglis v. InglisSC, 1931 S. C. 547 4 1945 S. C. 382 5 1960 S. C. 322 6 1960 S. C. 36 7 [1953] P. 258 8 [1955] P. 4 9 1927 J. C. 66 10 1960 J. C. 61. Reference was also made to H. M. Advocate v. Whelps, (1842) 1 Broun, 378 11 Reference was made to Gloag on......
  • Jusephine Williame (Petitioner) v Clarence Allister Williams
    • United Kingdom
    • Court of Appeal
    • 12 July 1962
    ...the decisions of this Court in ( White v. White 1950) Probate, 39, ( Swan v. Swan 1953) Probate, 258, and ( Palmer v. Palmer 1955) Probate, 4, in which the relevance of the M'Naghten rules to a petition for cruelty has been considered. He expressed the view that there was no decision of the......
  • Young, Sr. v Young
    • Bahamas
    • Supreme Court
    • 26 January 2001
    ...guilt which can no more be imputed to such a person than to a sleepwalker. Swan v. Swan [1953] 2 All E.R. 854 at p.857 per Hodson, L.J.; Palmer v. Palmer [1954] 3 All E.R. 494. If a spouse does not know the nature or quality of the acts alleged as cruelty, they cannot be relied on as establ......
  • Request a trial to view additional results
1 books & journal articles
2 provisions
  • Uganda (Public Service Commission) Order in Council, 1957
    • United Kingdom
    • UK Non-devolved
    • 1 January 1957 any other matter which, in his opinion, affects the public service or any public officer: (a) 52 & 53 Vict. c. 63. (b) Laws of Uganda, 1955, p. 4. (c) Cap. 74, Laws of Uganda (1951 Revision), Vol. II. p. Provided that the provisions of this subsection shall not apply in relation to any o......
  • Uganda (Police Service Commission) Order in Council, 1957
    • United Kingdom
    • UK Non-devolved
    • 1 January 1957 him by the Commission. (4) The Chairman of the Commission shall at all times have direct access to the Governor. (a) Laws of Uganda, 1955, p. 4. (b) Cap. 74, Laws of Uganda (1951 Revision) Vol. II, p. Regulations regarding the Commission 6.—(1) Subject to the provisions of this Order, th......

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