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Criminal Lunacy

Volume 155: debated on Tuesday 20 June 1922

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asked the Home Secretary whether there have been cases in the past similar to that of Ronald True in which persons have been found to be of sound mind at the time the murder was committed and after conviction and before execution became insane and were reprieved; and have any such persons recovered their sanity and been executed, or is it to be understood that when a reprieve has once been granted, execution cannot follow, even within a reasonable time upon the convict recovering his sanity?

Since the Court of Criminal Appeal was established in 1908, the sentence of death has been respited, and the prisoner removed to Broadmoor after Statutory Inquiry, in 11 cases. I know of only one similar case—that of Townley in 1864—where the prisoner was afterwards certified sane, and in that case the sentence of death, which had been re-spited, was commuted to one of penal servitude for life, and he was removed from an asylum to prison. In no recent case has the prisoner afterwards been certified sane under Section 3 of the Criminal Lunatics Act, 1884. I think it may remove some misapprehension that appears to exist, if I state that in eight of the eleven cases that have occurred since 1908, either the Judge or the Court of Criminal Appeal, or both, while satisfied that the verdict of the jury was correct, and that the prisoner had properly been found guilty of murder and not insane in the legal sense when he committed the crime, nevertheless suggested that it was desirable that further inquiry under the powers vested in the Home Secretary should be made as to the mental condition of the prisoner before the sentence of death was carried out.

Am I to understand that it is possible for a man to be executed if he recovers his sanity under such circumstances?

There is nothing in the law to prevent it, but, of course, whether it would be done is another matter.

I have answered that. There have been 11 cases since 1908, when the Court of Criminal Appeal was set up. In no case since then has a man recovered his sanity. In 1864 such a case occurred, and when he recovered his sanity, he went back to serve his term of penal servitude for life.

I appreciate that, but how often is a medical inquiry made to ascertain whether a man has recovered?