HARNETT v. BOND AND ADAM.

Oral Answers to Questions — Lunacy Laws (Inquiry). – in the House of Commons on 3rd March 1924.

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Photo of Mr Leonard Costello Mr Leonard Costello , Huntingdonshire

44.

asked the Prime Minister whether, in view of the evidence given before Mr. Justice Lush and the verdict of the jury and the observations of the learned Judge in the case in which a Mr. Harnett was awarded damages amounting to £25,000 against two medical men for causing his confinement as a lunatic, he will, without delay, appoint a Royal Commission to inquire into the present lunacy laws and their administration, and the conditions under which persons, alleged to be insane, can, under existing Regulations, be deprived of their personal liberty and confined in asylums or otherwise placed under detention?

Photo of Mr Arthur Comyns Carr Mr Arthur Comyns Carr , Islington East

52.

asked the Prime Minister whether his attention has been called to the verdict of the jury and observations of Mr. Justice Lush in the recent case of Harnett v. Bond and Adam in the King's Bench Division; and whether a Royal Commission will be appointed forthwith to inquire into the best means of preventing the state of affairs which it appears prevail with regard to the law and administration relating to lunacy?

Photo of Mr Moss Turner-Samuels Mr Moss Turner-Samuels , Barnard Castle

54.

asked the Prime Minister whether his attention has been called to the case of Harnett v. Bond and another in which, on Wedesday, a jury found that the defendant's doctors were guilty of wrongly detaining the plaintiff as an inmate of various asylums from 14th December, 1912, to 15th October, 1921, a period of nine years, that the evidence showed that the plaintiff was not of unsound mind on 14th December, 1912, and that during the whole time from then he was fit to be at large; and whether he will immediately have a Royal Commission or other form of inquiry set up to inquire into the administration of the Lunacy Acts in this particular, and especially in regard to the sufficiency of the steps that are taken by the Commissioners in Lunacy and other responsible persons, and the means that are available to an inmate to prevent persons from being detained in lunatic asylums when they ought not to be so detained?

Photo of Mr Ramsay Macdonald Mr Ramsay Macdonald , Aberavon

The proceedings in this case closed as lately as Friday last, and the shorthand notes have only just been received. The Government have not yet had time to give proper consideration to the difficult and complex issues raised. But prima facie it would appear that there is a case for full inquiry, and the Government are fully prepared to consider the setting up of an appropriate body to undertake such an inquiry. I may add that I understand the question of an appeal is under consideration.

Viscountess ASTOR:

In the setting up of that body will the right hon. Gentleman include a capable woman?

Photo of Mr Moss Turner-Samuels Mr Moss Turner-Samuels , Barnard Castle

I am not at the moment dissatisfied with the answer of the Prime Minister, but, in view of the public importance of this matter, I propose to refer to it on the Adjournment to-night.

Photo of Mr Frederick Pethick-Lawrence Mr Frederick Pethick-Lawrence , Leicester West

Will the right hon. Gentleman take into account the importance of having some form of body which can take evidence upon oath and in security?

Photo of Mr Ramsay Macdonald Mr Ramsay Macdonald , Aberavon

That is why I cannot commit myself to the form of the inquiry. It will be a serious inquiry, and a most effective inquiry.

Mr. JONES:

In appointing this body, will powers be given to it to inquire, not merely into the issue arising out of this particular case, but into the whole working of the lunacy laws?

Photo of Mr John Jones Mr John Jones , West Ham Silvertown

If a committee of inquiry is to be established, should not people who have some experience of mental deficiency be appointed?

Photo of Mr Arthur Comyns Carr Mr Arthur Comyns Carr , Islington East

May I ask that the setting up of a committee to inquire generally will not be delayed pending the decision of appeals? It may take some months before this particular case is finally disposed of.