Psychiatric evidence in Diminished Responsibility

Publication Date01 December 2018
DOI10.1177/0022018318801677
AuthorNicholas Hallett
SubjectComments
Comment
Psychiatric evidence
in Diminished Responsibility
Nicholas Hallett
Essex Partnership University NHS Foundation Trust, Runwell, UK
Abstract
Diminished Responsibility is a statutory partial defence to the charge of murder in the
Homicide Act 1957 which has been amended by the Coroners and Justice Act 2009. In Rv
Brennan, the Court of Appeal described the new criteria as relating ‘entirely to psychiatric
matters’. This article will explore to what extent such a conclusion is warranted. The statutory
wording of the 2009 Act will be analysed and the role of expert psychiatric evidence will be
considered. It will conclude that the new Diminished Responsibility is not a purely psychiatric
matter. This is because of the moral dimensions inherent in the defence, the ambiguity in the
statutory wording and the fundamental problems of psychiatry usurping the function of the jury
in relation to the ultimate issue. This results in inconsistent application and role confusion in
relation to the defence and asks psychiatric evidence questions it cannot answer.
Keywords
Diminished Responsibility, psychiatric evidence, murder, manslaughter, Coroners and Justice Act
2009
Introduction
Diminished Responsibility is a statutory partial defence to the charge of murder in the Homicide Act
1957 which has been amended by the Coroners and Justice Act 2009. In RvBrennan,
1
Lord Justice
Davis claimed that the new defence related ‘entirely to psychiatric matters’.
2
This article will explore to
what extent such a conclusion is warranted. It will consider the role of expert psychiatric evidence and
analyse the statutory wording in the 2009 Act.
3
This article will demonstrate that although the new Diminished Responsibility gives greater weight to
psychiatric evidence, the fundamental issue of moral responsibility remains and is obscured by
Corresponding author:
Nicholas Hallett, Essex Partnership University NHS Foundation Trust, Brockfield House, Essex SS11 7FE, UK.
E-mail: nickhallett@doctors.org.uk
2. Ibid. at 51.
3. Coroners and Justice Act 2009, s. 52(1).
The Journal of Criminal Law
2018, Vol. 82(6) 442–456
ªThe Author(s) 2018
Article reuse guidelines:
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DOI: 10.1177/0022018318801677
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