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Yet Another Anon

>>>>I would fully support tariffs on nations with 'Economic Advantage' over us like China.<<<<
This goes against the principles of Free Trade, the response should be to get rid of most regulation of the labour market and switch to a mixture of low level Universal Benefits and low interest loans to replace the existing state benefits systems.

Tony Makara

Yet another anon, I support free-trade but there are circumstances when free-trade can be detrimental to the national interest. We are not a banana republic, we are Britain, we shouldn't be dependent on imports, we should be supplying our home market and exporting to the world. Just as our forefathers did.

BMc

Yet Another Anon - with the greatest respect, I think you need to have a good solid look at the case law and legal principles surrounding the insanity defence and also a more detailed look at the physiology of mental illness.

My criminal law is very rusty so I am welcome to corrections on this but, in sum:

1. A person can have a mental illness which would incline them to commit crimes but they cannot necessarily claim the insanity defence, which only functions when an individual does not understand the nature of their act (i.e. - a sociopath who doesn't care that killing someone is wrong is fully culpable, a schizophrenic who wrongly thought, due to paranoid delusions for example, that the victim in question was trying to kill him could do so).

2. The principle of being aware of the nature of your act, of mens rea, is a fundamental building block of any legal system that you care to name. To abolish the insanity defence would be to abolish this cornerstone of the legal system.

3. The majority of serious neurological conditions that would lead to the situation where someone could plead the insanity defence, such as schizophrenia or epilepsy, have very obvious physical symptoms which can be picked up by brain scans. I am hard pushed to think of one that wouldn't.

4. Those who are found guilty of a serious crime by reason of insanity tend to be remanded to a hospital indefinitely.

5. I have a feeling that you are getting confused between the insanity plea and the diminished responsibility plea. You might want to check that.

6. I am strongly anti capital punishment on pretty much every ground; religious, moral and utilitarian. So I would argue against your 'life for a life' point although I point blank refuse to do so here.

7. Szasz is a crank. His theories are interesting from a theoretical philosophy point of view, but bear no relation to modern medicine or psychology. In many cases they are tangibly incorrect. His latest joint venture with the Church of Scientology underscores this point.

Tony Makara

"His latest joint venture with the Church of Scientology underscores this point."

The Church of Scientology. Actress Ginger Rogers was in that. She claimed she never saw a doctor in her life and that she was healed entirely by faith. Well, she certainly had great legs! Not so sure they came about through faith though, more likely through lots of dancing. Its interesting that a lot of Hollywood types get into scientology, wonder what the appeal is?

Returning to the subject of mental illness. Howdo we define it? For example I'd say that someone like David Icke is mentally ill, believing that the Queen and George Bush are shape-shifting lizards?

BMc

It is a bit of a knotty subject, certainly. When I studied it (now on, goodness, ten years ago) the working definition was something like 'a behavioural disorder that causes distress to the individual and/or those around them'.

Which is, granted, a bit woolly - David Icke is probably quite content with his shap-shifting lizards diagnosis and I doubt few people are fussed enough about it to be distressed. By contrast the loud cackling of one of the girls in my office is a behaviour that causes me a degree of distress, but I think it'd be hard to argue that she was mentally ill (at least on those particular grounds).

Szasz, who YAA mentions above, takes the view that all brain behaviour is essentially unquantifiable outside of a personal yardstick of morality, but that rather misses the point.

The problem is that one is really addressing symptoms rather than diseases, at least at first. You can demonstrate neurological brain dysfunction (anything from physical scarring to chemical imbalance)for all sorts of illnesses - from fully-blown schizophrenia through disorders like depression through to problems like addictions. The brain is still rather enigmatic as to exactly who it works though, and even more difficult to treat.

The issue is, of course, where does compulsion end and free will begin? I feel that the line is somewhat arbitrary, but one that we all need to draw, especially when considering social and legal issues.

Tony Makara

BMc, do define mental illness as being organic in origin, say a problem with brain chemistry, or do you subscribe to the view that there is a psychodynamic involved, say someone like David Icke who is wrapped up in bizarre conspiricy theories?

It raises the question who is the more dangerous some poor guy who goes into rages because of problems with brain chemistry or someone like Charles Manson/David Koresh/David Icke who has followers ready to do their bidding.

BMc

Hmm. That's an interesting point - and highlights the old debates of psychosis vs. neurosis (which was essentially organic origin vs. behavioural/thought origin), which is a bit misleading these days as many of the milder 'neuroses' (such as depression)do display things like abnormalities of neurotransmitter levels, just at a much lower level.

Add to this that behaviour will also change brain chemistry and behaviour patterns (which is why a lot of this hippy 'think positive' stuff can have an effect, up to a point) - so it can be rather circular.

So I'd say that all mental illness has an organic component - but of varying degrees and of varying manifestations of dysfunction. Sociopaths such as Manson or narcissists such as Koresh no doubt have or had a degree of brain abnormality - but that doesn't mean that they weren't able to control their behaviour. They just chose not to.

An interesting aside: there is research out there which indicates that something like 15% of top executives manifest personal behaviour that would indicate that they are clinical sociopaths - including traits such as indifference to the feelings of others and an overall 'lack of common humanity' (not necessarily any sort of violent behaviour). I can't vouch for the validity of this claim, but it does raise an interesting point about how the mentally ill are able to function in society and what other factors might contribute to them seriously transgressing laws or social boundaries.

Editor

Wow. This thread has got way off topic.

Tony Makara

Editor, you are dead right. Thanks for jumping in to restore order.

David Sergeant

Just to return to the Independent and the Times saying we don't have a broken society. It is usual for the media to misquote Tory spokesmen, extrapolate from the misquote what the spokesman meant and then put the boot in. It makes the journalist look real big. They wouldn't try it with Labour because a ton of bricks would come down on heads, but Tories just shrug a smile simperingly.

That is the main point of these articles, not whether society is broken or not. I note the Times wants to change the term to "fractured". Usual mealy mouthed stuff from journalists when confronted with a Labour messup, somehow get at the Tories as well if you want to receive more government press releases. (It is everywhere, recent article by a "defence correspondent" in the Telegraph, confronted with the Blair/Brown military disasters of underfund military tried to compare them to Tory cuts after the Berlin wall came down!)

Yet Another Anon

>>>>The majority of serious neurological conditions that would lead to the situation where someone could plead the insanity defence, such as schizophrenia or epilepsy<<<<
Schizophrenia is not a neurological condition, it is a psychiatric condition. Epilepsy and narcolepsy, and these days autism is also considered a neurological condition.

I am suspicious about giving any leeway in terms of state of mind, as far as I am concerned the law should be absolute - someone has been killed or raped or molested without justification in terms of anything that the victim did, then the perpetrator should receive a mandatory punishment exactly the same as anyone else. Anything else risks allowing clever fakers with either knowledge or advice from medical and legal experts to get off when they are guilty.

Tony Makara

Yet another anon, I see what you mean. The Yorkshire Ripper certainly tried to fake his way out a conviction. However I don't see how we can possibly issue a mandatory sentence on someone who is insane or acting out of dimished responsiblity. What do you feel about those who kill very young like Mary Bell who are later deemed safe to release? Is age a viable defence, ie the Bulger case? Can we really hold a ten year old fully accountable or are they by virtue of their age acting out of diminished responsibility?

John Leonard

BMc:

A belated response to your observation earlier. Absolutely agree. I should have said 'minor recovery'. I was in a bit of a rush!

Yet Another Anon

>>>>However I don't see how we can possibly issue a mandatory sentence on someone who is insane or acting out of dimished responsiblity. What do you feel about those who kill very young like Mary Bell who are later deemed safe to release?<<<<
I don't think the minimum age for Capital Punishment should be lower than 5 or higher than 12, below that it should be assumed that they don't know what they are doing, there is a hazy area.

There is always the risk that someone is merely very good at faking being out of touch with reality, with modern forensic science it should be possible to conduct trials without testimony of the defendant - it's not like the Middle Ages when a lot of the time it came down to one person's word against another's. I rather favour a more inquisitorial approach for trials - to find out what happened, not some kind of combat of lawyers.

As for mandatory sentences on those considered unfit to plead under current law or considered to have mitigating circumstances because of some mental illness, or for that matter physical illness - I rather think this encourages people to lie and risks letting off the guilty. People have to accept that no man made body is perfect and that one way or another they can make mistakes, and I'm sure people would far rather that the odd person who had genuinely no idea what they were doing was put to death rather than maybe they were released at some point in the future and killed a member of the General public who had done nothing to merit death.

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