Diminished responsibility and infanticide

The Infanticide Act 1938 provides that a woman who kills her child in the first year of its life may be convicted of infanticide (rather than murder) if, at the time, 'the balance of her mind was disturbed' by the effects of childbirth. In other homicide cases where defendants are charged with murder, they may plead guilty to manslaughter on the grounds of diminished responsibility if there is psychiatric evidence that they were suffering from mental disorder at the time of the offence. Under the Homicide Act 1957 the criterion for a diminished responsibility verdict is that at the time of the killing the accused was suffering from an abnormality of mind which substantially impaired his mental responsibility for his acts. The mental abnormality must arise from arrested or retarded development, disease or injury, or 'inherent causes'. Conventionally, 'disease' usually equates to mental illness, and 'inherent causes' usually equates to personality disorder.

Psychiatric reports on defendants facing murder charges should normally address the diminished responsibility criteria. In many cases of obvious mental illness the plea will not be contested by the prosecution, but sometimes it is contested, and the conflicting psychiatric evidence will be considered by a jury. In practice, psychiatric evidence of abnormality of mind may be more readily accepted in cases where there is sympathy and a perceived need to deal leniently with the defendant. Conversely, there may be more reluctance to accept psychiatric evidence of mental abnormality in cases where there is less sympathy and a greater perceived need for retribution in dealing with the defendant.

Pregnancy And Childbirth

Pregnancy And Childbirth

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