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A Flaw in the English Lunacy Law

  • Ernest W. White (a1)

The following case shows the necessity for reform in the legal procedure connected with the admission of private patients:—E. E. S—, a lady patient, was admitted on October 26th last, upon the order of a justice of the peace who had not seen her, and upon the medical certificate of her regular medical attendant, and the second certificate of a neighbouring practitioner. Within the statutory period after admission she signed a request to be seen and examined by a judicial authority, under 53 and 54 Vict., cap. 5, sec. 8 (2). On November 2nd I made a return to the Commissioners in Lunacy stating—“She was insane, suffering from melancholia; had a dejected appearance and nervous manner, with delusions of unworthiness; said ‘God would never forgive her her sins’; was agitated, restless, and dissatisfied,” etc. On November 5th she was seen and examined by a local county justice of the peace, who, in the face of these three certificates, and a note in the case book by Dr. Patterson, reported that he did not consider the patient insane. In consequence of this report she was removed by her brother on November 26th, the Commissioners in Lunacy, who apparently, under 53 and 54 Vict., cap. 5. sec. 8 (3), had no option in the matter, having requested him to take this step. I may add we considered her probably suicidal, and when she left I wrote her ordinary medical attendant advising him to watch her, and have her placed under fresh certificates, but she declined to see him again. On the night of December 9th (that is, less than fourteen days after leaving the asylum) E. E. S— committed suicide on the permanent way of the Great Northern Railway in North London. Thus a report by a young and inexperienced justice of the peace outweighs the opinions of two experts, the family medical attendant, who had watched the case for months, and a fourth medical man, who signed the second certificate on admission. Surely this life was sacrificed through a defect in lunacy law!

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The British Journal of Psychiatry
  • ISSN: -
  • EISSN: 2514-9946
  • URL: /core/journals/the-british-journal-of-psychiatry
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A Flaw in the English Lunacy Law

  • Ernest W. White (a1)
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