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Roe v. Nix

Extract

The facts of this remarkable and extremely narrow case, which was tried by Mr. Justice Gorell Barnes and a special jury, at the close of last year, are too fresh in the minds of our readers to require or to justify recapitulation at any length, and it may suffice to state that the point at issue was whether certain testamentary documents executed by a Chancery lunatic, Miss Ellen Roe, were or were not vitiated by the alleged mental unsoundness of the testatrix. The evidence was very evenly balanced. On the one hand, Miss Ellen Roe had been found lunatic by inquisition; no supersedeas had been obtained. The Lord Chancellor's visitors were of opinion that she did not possess testamentary capacity at the critical period; the deceased lady had proposed to bequeath her property to the Dean of Norwich, and to leave legacies to the Archbishop of Canterbury and the Lord Chancellor, and a strong effort was made to show that she was under the influence of an insane aversion towards her sisters, and that the case, therefore, came within the ratio decidendi of Dew v. Clark and similar authorities. On the other hand, it was contended, and evidence was adduced to prove, that the only form of insanity from which Miss Roe had ever suffered was temporary alcoholism, and that her aversion to her sisters was at first merely the indifference caused by long absence from home, and afterwards the dislike which the inmate of an asylum is apt to feel to the persons whom she supposes to have put her there. It was also proved that one of the Chancery Visitors had expressed an opinion that Miss Roe might be allowed to make a will—although, of course, without undertaking to say that it would be valid—and that the actual preparation and execution of the disputed instrument were preceded and accompanied by every possible precaution on the part of testatrix's solicitor. In the event the jury pronounced in favour of Miss Roe's testamentary capacity—a conclusion at which we might not perhaps have been able to arrive—but which it was perfectly possible for reasonable men to adopt under the circumstances, and the verdict was received in Court with the popular applause which the judicial obliteration of the stigma of insanity never fails to elicit. The course of this case was seriously impeded by the fact that all the reports of the Chancery Visitors with regard to Miss Roe were presumably destroyed at her death, and, at any rate, were not forthcoming for the purposes of the trial. We trust that Section 186 of the Lunacy Act, 1890, which renders this absurdity possible and lawful, will receive the early attention of the Legislature.

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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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Roe v. Nix

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