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Clunis v Camden and Islington Health Authority [1998] QB 978 Court of Appeal

The Claimant had been detained in hospital for treatment of a mental disorder. He was discharged on 24 September 1992. The Claimant then stabbed a complete stranger to death in an unprovoked attack on 17 December 1992. He pleaded guilty to manslaughter on the grounds of diminished responsibility and was sentenced to be detained in hospital pursuant to section 37 of the Mental Health Act 1983 with an indefinite restriction order under section 41. He brought an action against the Health Authority, alleging that it had been negligent in discharging him and not providing adequate after care. He claimed damages for his loss of liberty. The Health Authority applied to strike out the action on the ground that, even assuming that it had been negligent and that the Claimant would not otherwise have committed manslaughter, damages could not be recovered for the consequences of the Claimant's own unlawful act. The High Court dismissed the Defendant's strike out application. The Defendant appealed.

Held:

Appeal allowed.


Beldam LJ:
"In the present case the plaintiff has been convicted of a serious criminal offence. In such a case public policy would in our judgment preclude the court from entertaining the plaintiff's claim unless it could be said that he did not know the nature and quality of his act or that what he was doing was wrong. The offence of murder was reduced to one of manslaughter by reason of the plaintiff's mental disorder but his mental state did not justify a verdict of not guilty by reason of insanity. Consequently, though his responsibility for killing Mr. Zito is diminished, he must be taken to have known what he was doing and that it was wrong. A plea of diminished responsibility accepts that the accused's mental responsibility is substantially impaired but it does not remove liability for his criminal act…The court ought not to allow itself to be made an instrument to enforce obligations alleged to arise out of the plaintiff's own criminal act and we would therefore allow the appeal on this ground."
 
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