Front Page Titles (by Subject) 407.: THE LAW OF LUNACY DAILY NEWS, 31 JULY, 1858, P. 4 - The Collected Works of John Stuart Mill, Volume XXV - Newspaper Writings December 1847 - July 1873 Part IV
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407.: THE LAW OF LUNACY DAILY NEWS, 31 JULY, 1858, P. 4 - John Stuart Mill, The Collected Works of John Stuart Mill, Volume XXV - Newspaper Writings December 1847 - July 1873 Part IV 
The Collected Works of John Stuart Mill, XXV - Newspaper Writings December 1847 - July 1873 Part IV, ed. Ann P. Robson and John M. Robson, Introduction by Ann P. Robson and John M. Robson (Toronto: University of Toronto Press, London: Routledge and Kegan Paul, 1986).
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THE LAW OF LUNACY
According to the provisions of 16 & 17 Victoria, cc. 96 and 97 (1853), to be committed to a lunatic asylum a person did not have to be certified by a Commission of Lunacy (which generally employed a jury) if relatives or friends applied to a magistrate for a reception order; in that case, the person could be committed on the strength of a private hearing and a certificate signed by two people, each “a physician, surgeon, or apothecary.” Mill’s letter, headed as title, with the subhead, “To the Editor of the Daily News,” is described in his bibliography as “A letter signed P. and headed ‘The Laws of Lunacy’ in the Daily News of July 31, 1858”
(MacMinn, p. 92).
It has become urgently necessary that public attention should be called to the state of the law on the subject of Lunacy, and the frightful facility with which any persons whom their heirs or connexions desire to put out of the way, may be consigned without trial to a fate more cruel and hopeless than the most rigorous imprisonment.
Recent circumstances have made it a matter of notoriety, that confinement in a madhouse is the easiest means of getting rid of, or bringing to terms, refractory wives. Your paper of Monday contained one instance, on which you have very rightly and ably commented;1 within the last fortnight the whole country has heard of another;2 and the number which never see the light does not admit of any probable estimation.
A criminal cannot be sentenced to six months’ imprisonment without the verdict of a jury, preceded by a public investigation and opportunity of defence. But a perfectly innocent person can be fraudulently kidnapped, seized, and carried off to a madhouse on the assertion of any two so-called medical men, who may have scarcely seen the victim whom they dismiss to a condition far worse than the penalty which the law inflicts for proved crime. Convicts are not delivered over to the absolute power of their gaoler; nor can be subjected to the ruffianly treatment revealed by the York inquiry. Convicts can appeal against ill treatment; but to the other unfortunates the ordinary use of speech is virtually denied; their sober statements of fact, still more their passionate protests against injustice, are held to be so many instances of insane delusion. And this fate any two medical men may secretly inflict. Any practitioner may be selected—knaves who will give every certificate desired for the sake of their fee; or weak creatures who will certify to anything affirmed by a gentleman and a man of position; or men who, knowing nothing, either practically or theoretically, about the signs of insanity, can be made to see with the eyes of their prompter. In a few days the victim perhaps succumbs, and having consented to every demand, is pronounced not mad by a different authority, and restored to real or nominal liberty, with a statement from the successful party that there has been a satisfactory arrangement. I am not speculating as to what has been, but describing what evidently may be.
The obvious remedy is to require the same guarantees before depriving a fellow-creature of liberty on one pretext as on another. The inquiry by a jury, which is now the exception, ought to be the rule; it should be an imperative preliminary to the putting an alleged lunatic in a place of confinement. A jury could be as speedily impanelled in a case of sudden madness as of sudden death; and if any restraint be necessary in the short interval, let it be in the patient’s home. Juries, in such cases, are foolish and credulous enough, and only too willing to treat any conduct as madness which is ever so little out of the common way; but at least the publicity of the inquiry is some protection, and tends to fix attention on any unavowed motive which may actuate the promoters of the proceeding. It would also apprise others of the existence of the alleged lunatic, and the place where he, or she, is confined; and would thus render somewhat more difficult the evasion which it is so easy to practise on the vigilance of the Commissioners at their annual visitation of lunatic asylums. Many other improvements in the law and procedure in these cases are urgently needed, and might easily be suggested; but my object is to indicate the importance of the subject, its growing urgency, and the large scope which it affords for the exertions of intelligent reformers in and out of Parliament. I earnestly intreat you to continue your efforts at rousing public opinion on a matter so vital to the freedom and security of the subject.
March 1863 to July 1873
[1 ]The case of Mary Jane Turner, wife of Charles Turner, official assignee in the Liverpool Court of Bankruptcy, was reported in the Daily News on 26 July, p. 3; the leader Mill refers to appeared on 28 July, p. 4. She had recently been the subject of an inquiry at York Castle before F. Barlow, one of the Masters in Lunacy. See also “Commission of Lunacy,” The Times, 27 July, p. 5, and a leader on the treatment of lunatics, ibid., 28 July, p. 9.
[2 ]Mill is referring to the notorious case of Lady Rosina Doyle Wheeler Bulwer-Lytton (1804-82), Lady Lytton, separated wife of Edward Bulwer-Lytton. Since their legal separation in 1836, she had published many attacks on him and instituted a number of legal actions against him. On 8 June, 1858, having travelled overnight from Taunton to Hertford for the purpose, she had appeared at a public meeting held to nominate Bulwer-Lytton for office and launched an embarrassing public attack on him. After withdrawing from the meeting, he proceeded to arrange for a medical examination of his wife’s mental condition. Later in the month, on 22 June, she was confined in a private asylum at Brentford; then, on 17 July, after gaining permission to leave, she departed for the continent, accompanied by her son. The London newspapers were rather slow in taking up the case from the provincial press, but once they did so, devoted a good deal of space to the scandal. For representative examples of the newspaper coverage, see The Times, 6 July, p. 9; 14 July, p. 9; 19 July, p. 12; and 19 Aug., p. 8; cf. the Daily Telegraph, 14 July, p. 4; 15 July, p. 4; and the Morning Chronicle, 13 July, p. 5.