R v Windle – 1952

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Last modified: 07/03/18 Author: In-house law team

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R v Windle [1952] 2 QB 82

Claim of “communicated insanity” by man convicted of murdering wife


The appellant (W) was convicted of murdering his wife. His wife had regularly spoke of committing suicide and doctors suggested that she was certifiably insane. Upon arrest, W said to the police: “I suppose they will hang me for this?”


On appeal, it was contended that W had been suffering from a form of insanity called folie à deux which was communicated to him by his wife as a result of his constant attendance to her, his weak character and her dominating character. Accordingly, the plea of guilty but insane should have been available to the jury. The key question was whether the M’Naghten rules regarding insanity (see R v McNaughten 8 E.R. 718)could be applied in a case of communicated insanity where the accused was not suffering from a specific delusion. Counsel for the W suggested that that the use of the word “wrong” as applied in McNaughten did not mean contrary to law but morally wrong. Accordingly, if W believed that what he was doing was beneficial, despite knowing it was illegal, then he should be excused.


The Court observed that it must not consider whether an act is morally right or wrong but only whether it is lawful or unlawful. The M’Naghten rules applied to all cases of insanity, whatever the nature of the insanity or disease of the mind. In the rules, the word “wrong” means contrary to law. In the present case, W was clearly aware that what he was doing was contrary to law. Therefore, the judge was correct to deny the plea of insanity from the jury.

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