Diminished responsibility in Ireland:
historical reflections on the doctrine and
present-day analysis of the law.
Northern Ireland Legal Quarterly, 62 (3).
Since its genesis, criticism of the doctrine of diminished responsibility has been extensive,
both in respect of its underlying principles and practical effects. It has been called all
sorts of names: “elliptical almost to the point of nonsense”,1 inaccurate2 and essentially
illogical.3 Yet, in 2006, the Irish legislature deemed it appropriate to incorporate the partial
defence into Irish law. To attempt to ascertain why, this paper reflects upon the
development of the doctrine throughout the jurisdictions of the United Kingdom, and
tracks its gradual progress to the republic under s. 6 of the Criminal Law (Insanity) Act
2006. With the doctrine now firmly enshrined in Irish law, the paper moves to consider the
underlying rationale peculiar to s. 6, in addition to the early signs of its impact in practice.
The first part of this paper charts chronologically the fluctuating nature and scope of the
doctrine in the jurisdictions discussed, showing the malleable margins pertaining to the
defence in practice. It shows how the language used to define the doctrine, and its
interpretation, are shaped not so much by academic agreement on how the wording should
be understood, but on political and social issues of the time. Consideration is afforded to the
foundational nature of the doctrine in Scotland in order to arrive at an understanding of its
original intention. The impact of its mid-twentieth-century migration to the statute books of
England and Wales, and later Northern Ireland, is then discussed as this marks an important
shift in the status and interpretation of the doctrine. Following this, the ascent of the doctrine
into Irish law is considered, in conjunction with more recent statutory developments affecting
this area of law in England and Wales, Northern Ireland and Scotland.
The second part discusses in greater depth the nature and scope of the law in Ireland,
in particular, its relationship with the insanity defence and its role as a means of mitigating
the harsh effect of the mandatory life sentence for murder. Recent Irish caselaw is also
taken into account, with a view to identifying the emergence of patterns in the
interpretation of the law since its introduction in 2006. The options available to the courts
at the disposal stage are shown to be lacking and the approach of the judiciary inconsistent.
||Diminished responsibility in Ireland; historical reflections; doctrine and present-day; analysis of the law;
||Social Sciences > Law
||09 Jan 2012 13:01
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||Northern Ireland Legal Quarterly
||SLS Legal Publications (NI), Faculty of Law, Queen's University
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