Report of the Committee on Mentally Abnormal Offenders
Presented to Parliament by the Secretary of State for the Home Department and the Secretary of State for Social Services by Command of Her Majesty – October 1975
This report is referenced in the blog post What’s Wrong With M’Naghten’s Rule
This page is under construction. However, a brief commentary is made here in the interim. In book form, this report is about 315 pages long. The recommendations of the committee pertained to British law, society, mental health procedures, and its criminal justice system. However, much of the ethos, and the discourse of this report is highly relevant to all civilized cultures. There are institutions and organizations at present in the U.S. that are producing white papers and policy prescriptions that seek to solve the problem of criminalization of mental illness – without having one word to say about M’Naghten’s Rule. The Butler Report has plenty to say about it.
On the matter of how the criminal justice system pursues prosecution, conviction, and punishment of persons afflicted with serious mental illness with such ferocity, willfully ignoring the medicolegal implications of incompetence to stand trial, abstracting and dissembling what is known by neuroscience about how psychosis-spectrum disorders impair cognition and consciousness, and treating these neurological disorders as aggravating rather than mitigating factors, the Butler Report has this to say.
In some disorders the patient’s beliefs are so bizarre or his change of mood is so profound and inexplicable, or he is so changed in manner and conduct, that his condition can only be described as alien, or mad. In such cases it is accepted opinion in civilised countries that he should not be held responsible for his actions.
The committee members who prepared the report had reverence for the rule of law. It is entirely consistent to have disdain for criminality yet be averse to the possibility of punishing a philosophically innocent human being. When the law and criminal justice subordinates medical science and competent medical professionals in the evaluation and adjudication of people afflicted with neuropsychiatric illness, then the risk runs exceedingly high of convicting and punishing someone who should not be held criminally responsible.
There is no such thing as a duty to punish.