The name of the late Lord Blackburn has few recollections of a medico-legal character associated with it. But his lordship once rendered a service to the science of medical jurisprudence which ought not to be forgotten. He was trying a woman on a charge of attempted murder. She clearly knew the difference of right from wrong and the character of her act, and if the judge had charged the jury according to the letter of the answers in McNaghten's case, she would inevitably have been convicted. But Lord Blackburn, to use his own language, “felt it impossible to say that she should be punished,” and so he told the jury that while McNaghten's case supplied the general rule, there were exceptions to it. The jury at once acted on the hint by acquitting the prisoner on the ground of insanity. Many of our judges would not hesitate nowadays to treat the orthodox test of criminal responsibility in mental disease with equal freedom. But Lord Blackburn's “departure” was taken about a quarter of a century ago, when the authority of McNaghten's case was far more unchallenged than it is at the present day.
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