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The British way

Jeannie Mackie reflects on the new murder defences

11 October 2010

Murder will out – and reforms will be made. Changes to murder defences came into force on the 4 October, under section 52-61 of the Coroners and Justice Act 2009. The old defences of diminished responsibility under section 2 of the Homicide Act 1957, and provocation, which was a messy mixture of statute and common law, have now been abolished and replaced with new statutory tests. As before, they are partial defences which can reduce murder to manslaughter.

The Homicide Act was a valiant attempt to stop hanging mentally disordered defendants whose violence was associated with a mental disorder, but fell short of insanity, by introducing the concept of an ‘abnormality of mind’ which substantially impaired his responsibility for his actions.

The old definition detailed how you got the abnormality of mind, but not how it operated on thought and action. As psychiatry and law function in different time zones – our insanity law is courtesy of Daniel M’naghten who i...

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