Forensic psychiatry, the English Common Law and the history of the insanity defence

All legal systems, for there to be a criminal act, require the accused person to have done a crime and to have been in a state of mind where they were capable of knowledge of doing a crime and/or capacity to control themselves. For this reason, young children and people with many forms of insanity are not judged guilty. In a criminal trial, there is the possibility of a “defence of insanity”. Most decisions, however, are in fact not reached in court but through professional medical report within a legal-administrative framework. Nevertheless, occasionally there are highly public and emotional arguments about how to decide whether someone is “mad or bad”, that is, responsible, e.g. the case (in 2011) of the Norwegian mass murderer, Anders Behring Breivik. There is a historically significant difference between Anglo-American Common Law and European Continental Codified Law systems as they deal with these questions.

My talk will introduce the historical background to the issues, comment on the importance of Common Law and Codified Law systems for a professional speciality of forensic psychiatry, and illustrate the richness of historical sources in this area with discussion of one Victorian case (see my article, ‘Mad or Bad? Victorian Stories of the Criminally Insane’, L.S.E. Quarterly, 3 (1989): 1-20).

Roger Smith
Roger SmithDr Roger Smith is Reader Emeritus in the History of Science, Lancaster University and, as an independent scholar, is associated with the Institute of the History of Science and Technology and the Institute of Psychology of the Russian Academy of Sciences, in Moscow
2011 to present: Honorary Researcher, Institute of Philosophy of the Russian Academy of Sciences, Moscow, Russian Federation.
1998 to present: Reader Emeritus in History of Science, Lancaster University, UK. 
1971-1998: Lecturer, Senior Lecturer, then Reader in History of Science, Department of History, Lancaster University, UK. 
1964-70: BA, MA, PhD in History and Philosophy of Science, Cambridge University, UK. 
1987-92: President, Cheiron: The European Society for the History of the Behavioural and Social Sciences (subsequently, The European Society for the History of the Human Sciences). 
2011: Lifetime Award for contributions to the history of psychology, Section 26, American Psychological Association. 

Current member, Editorial Boards: 
History of the Human Sciences, 
History of Psychology, 
Journal of the History of the Behavioral Sciences, 
Science in Context.