Legal Approaches to Criminal Responsibility of Mentally Disordered Offenders in Europe

  • Michiel van der WolfEmail author
  • Hjalmar van Marle


The moral tradition of not holding mentally disordered criminally responsible for certain offences seems to have similar roots across Europe, in Hebrew and Roman law and Greek philosophy, while the church influenced its further development. However, the legal context and the national perspective on the contents of the tradition create a wide variety of doctrines and consequent assessment practices. This chapter explains a few major distinctions in the legal approaches to criminal responsibility of mentally disordered offenders in European jurisdictions and its implications for assessment practice. First of all, differences in the ‘form’ of the responsibility doctrine are related to the context within criminal law and procedure, as well as the context within sentencing law and mental health law. Secondly, differences in the ‘substance’ of the responsibility doctrine are explained on three dimensions: the definition of insanity, legal versus medical competence; the test of insanity, a general versus a specific relation between disorder and offence; and the scale of responsibility, gradual versus dichotomous. In the discussion, the implications for the behavioural scientific disciplines that are generally asked to assess criminal responsibility will be discussed, as well as recent debates about the doctrine.


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Copyright information

© Springer International Publishing AG, part of Springer Nature 2018

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Department of Criminal Law/Forensic Psychiatry, Erasmus Medical Centre andErasmus School of LawRotterdamthe Netherlands
  2. 2.Department of Forensic PsychiatryErasmus Medical Centre and Erasmus School of LawRotterdamthe Netherlands

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