Letter: Mad or just heretic?

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The Independent Culture
Sir: Quite sinister consequences could flow from the government proposals to detain "untreatable" psychopaths.

Precedents are not in the Government's favour. Britain has a long and ignominious history of punishing people who are mentally ill, and of treating as mentally ill people whose conduct simply offended against a moral or religious code.

People accused of crimes but suffering from all sorts of profound psychopathic problems have, in earlier eras, been deemed "bad" by judges sceptical of psychiatric science, and then convicted and sent to prison. Equally, well-adjusted people suffering from conditions such as epilepsy, and even unmarried mothers, have been deemed "mad" and sent to asylums.

We live in an age in which non-standard conduct is progressively marginalised: the two main political parties are converging in thought; we have a national curriculum for schools; even Amnesty International, an organisation opposed to torture, is apparently seen as political and partisan. Who can predict what sort of heretical or dissident thought will count as a "personality disorder" in the next century?

A law which permitted confinement on the basis of two experts testifying to something as vague and unascertainable as a psychopathic personality disorder would be courting immense danger of misuse.

GARY SLAPPER

Law Programme

The Open university

Milton Keynes, Buckinghamshire

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