M'Naghten's Case

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Citation: M’Naghten's Case [1843-1860] ALL ER Rep 229.

This information can be found in the Textbook: Brown et al, Criminal Laws: Materials and Commentary on Criminal Law and Process in New South Wales, (5th edition, Federation Press, 2011), pp. 516-7.


Background facts

  • The Defendant [McNaughton, incorrectly spelt M’Naghten] was convicted of shooting and killing a prominent political figure.
  • It appeared that the Defendant was delusional and paranoid that the political party were trying to kill him, and it also that he was under the impression that he killed the prime minister as opposed to his secretary (the real victim).
  • Medical experts testified that he was insanely delusional. He was acquitted.
  • After a public outcry, the House of Lords had to review the case (this appeal).

Legal issues


  • A jury has to ask whether, at the time of committing the act:
  1. The accused was labouring under a defect of reason due to a disease of the mind; and
  2. That due to this disease of the mind, the accused either:
    1. Did not know the nature and quality of their act; OR
    2. Did not know what they were doing was wrong.
  • The Defendant was found to be insane and was incarcerated at a hospital.


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