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The Plea of Insanity


It is worthy of notice that just as inquisitions de lunatico inquirendo are steadily receding before the advance in public and judicial favour of the summary powers of management and administration created by Section 116 of the Lunacy Act, 1890, so the question whether a prisoner is fit to take his trial is coming more and more to be determined by the Home Secretary on the advice of his experts, under the wide powers of the Criminal Lunatics Act, 1884, without waiting for arraignment. This was the course taken by Mr. Asquith both in the Bethnal Green murder case (“Reg. v. Matthews”) and in the case of Covington, who threatened to murder Cardinal Vaughan, and it is a humane and a wise one. On the other hand it has to be kept in view that this summary procedure deprives a prisoner of his right to have the fact of his sanity tried by a jury. There are, however, ample safeguards both in the Criminal Lunatics Acts and in the pressure of public opinion against any abuse in the exercise of the summary powers with which the Secretary of State is invested.

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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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The Plea of Insanity

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