Professor Ronnie Mackay

Job: Professor of Criminal Policy & Mental Health

Faculty: Business and Law

School/department: Leicester De Montfort Law School

Research group(s): Criminal Law and Criminal Justice

Address: The Gateway, De Montfort University, Leicester, UK, LE1 9BH

T: + 44 (0)1162577189




Personal profile

Ronnie Mackay has a long and distinguished record of research in criminal law and mental health law, with particular emphasis on mental condition defences and mentally abnormal offenders.  He is on the editorial board of the Journal of Forensic Psychiatry and Psychology and Personality and Mental Health - Multidisciplinary Studies from Personality Dysfunction and Criminal Behaviour.  He has a significant record of publications in the leading academic journals in his fields and has acted as an academic consultant to the Law Commission in relation to their work on: Partial Defences to Murder; and Murder, Manslaughter and Infanticide.  

He has also been engaged in an empirical study for the Law Commission into both unfitness to plead and the defence of insanity as part of the Commission's 10th Reform Programme.  This empirical work is the culmination of a longstanding research project, funded by the Nuffield Foundation, which has also included consideration of both 'diminished responsibility' and the plea of 'provocation'.  He also received funding from the British Epilepsy Association to conduct an empirical study into cases of epileptic automatism which resulted in two publications (with Professor M Reuber). Recently he has conducted an empirical study into the operation of the new diminished responsibility plea with the cooperation of the Crown prosecution Service resulting in two articles in the Criminal Law Review.

In 2018 Professor Mackay jointly edited (with Professor Warren Brookbanks of Auckland University of Technology) a volume entitled Fitness to Plead - International and Comparative Perspectives published by Oxford University Press, see

Professor Mackay is regularly invited to give papers at national and international conferences and is consulted by a range of stakeholders, for example, he was invited by the American Academy of Psychiatry and the Law to comment on their practice guidelines for competence to stand trial.  His articles include a piece on the plea of provocation (with Barry Mitchell and Warren Brookbanks), papers on the operation of both the McNaughten rules (defence of insanity) and unfitness to plead and  empirical studies of involuntary manslaughter cases (with Barry Mitchell) and the new diminished responsibility plea. Professor Mackay is part of the editorial team which produced a major work entitled Principles of Mental Health Law and Policy (Oxford University Press). He has visited Auckland University Law School in New Zealand on several occasions where he taught an intensive Masters course and delivered staff seminars. In 2017 he gve a keynote address at an international conference on Unfitness to Stand Trial see:

In 2018 he gave a presentaton on the role of empirical reserarch in reforming the insanity defence at the 38 Annual congress of the Australia and New Zealand Asscociation of Psychiatry, Psychology and Law, Tasmania, Australia, see;

Publications and outputs 


Click here
to see a full listing of Ronnie Mackay's publications and outputs.

Research interests/expertise

Criminal Law, Mental Condition Defences, The Insanity Defence, Unfitness to Plead, Mentally Abnormal Offenders, Mental Health Law, Law and Psychiatry, Medical Law.

Ronnie Mackay has considerable expertise in conducting empirical research into mental condition defences.  To date he has conducted four empirical studies of both the insanity defence and unfitness to plead together with empirical studies of diminished responsibility, provocation and infanticide.  Some of these studies were commissioned by the Law Commission for England and Wales while others have been funded by bodies such as the Economic and Social Research Council and the Nuffield Foundation.  These studies have been used and continue to be used for the purposes of law reform, policy development and legal analysis.

Areas of teaching

Criminal Law; Medical Law.


B.A. (Law); M.Phil; Barrister at Law

Membership of professional associations and societies

Member of Gray’s Inn of Court

Professional licences and certificates

Barrister-at Law

Conference attendance

Conference Papers Given:

Unfitness to Plead – “The Direction of Disability in Relation to the Trial”, Law Commission Conference on Fitness to Plead, London, March 2009. Attendance funded by Conference Organisers.

Guest Lecture on “The New Diminished Responsibility Plea”, Faculty of Forensic Psychiatry Annual Meeting, Royal College of Psychiatrists, 12 February 2010, Dublin. Attendance funded by Conference Organisers.

Keynote Lecture on “Insanity in Jersey Law – A Tale of Two Tests”, Seminar on the Insanity Defences in the Criminal Law of Jersey, 26 February 2010. Attendance funded by Conference Organisers.

2010 Willis Cunningham Memorial Lecture entitled "Researching and Reforming Insanity in the Criminal Law" at Queens University in Kingston, Ontario in Canada on 15th September 2010.

The Coroners and Justice Act 2009: Panacea or Pandora’s Box for Partial Defences?Durham University, 30 September 2010.

Lecture entitled “The New Diminished Responsibility Plea: More than Mere Modernisation?” Univesrity of Northumbria, Attendance funded by Conference Organisers 2010.

Lecture entitled “Unfitness to Plead and the Defence of Insanity” for the Judicial Studies Board for Northern Ireland on 30th November 2010 in Belfast. Attendance funded by Conference Organisers. .

Reforming the Insanity Defence? A Critique of the New Zealand Law Commission’s Report on the Insanity Defence, Paper given as a Visiting Lecturer at Auckland University Law School, February 2011.

Chaired a Session on Reform of the Insanity Defence at Society of Legal Scholars Annual Conference, Cambridge University, September 2011.

Research Presentation on Diminished Responsibility given to the Forensic Section of the Institute of Psychiatry on 16 December 2011.

Insanity Defences in Great Britain, Paper given at the Socio-Legal Studies Association Conference at De Montfort University, April 2012.

'The current law on automatism’, Medico-legal Seminar on Automatism, Keele University, June 14th 2013.

‘Unravelling Unfitness to Plead’, Gerald Gordon Seminar on Criminal Law, Glasgow University, 6-7 June 2013.

‘More Data on the Insanity Defence’ Mental Disorder and Crime Seminar, Northumbria University, 12th October 2013.

Fit to Plead but Unfit to Stand Trial? Society of Legal Scholars Annual Conference, Nottingham University, 11 September 2014.

Insanity and Automatism-The legal State of Play: Sleep and the Law Conference, The Royal Society of Medicine, 30 September 2014.

The Operation of Unfitness to Plead in England and Wales, Perils and Portents of Unfitness to Stand Trial: International and Comparative Perspectives, Auckland University of Technology, New Zealand.

Insanity defence reform – can empirical research influence legal change? 38th Annual congress of the Australia and New Zealand Asscociation of Psychiatry, Psychology and Law, Tasmania.

Consultancy work

Consultant to the Law Commission for their project on reform of Unfitness to Plead and the Defence of Insanity 2011-.

Consultant to the Law Commission for their project on reform of the Law of Murder, 2006.

Consultant to the Law Commission for their project on reform of the Law of Partial Defences to Murder, 2004.

Externally funded research grants information

The Home Office Research and Planning Unit, Research funding to conduct an 18 month study into the operation of section 48 of the Mental Health Act 1983, £48,000, 1995-1996. Project Director.

Economic and Social Research Council, Research Funding to conduct a five year study into the Operation of the Criminal Procedure (Insanity and Unfitness to Plead) Act 1991, £137,577, 1993-1997, Grant No R000233773. Project Director.

The Nuffield Foundation, Unfitness to Plead, Insanity and Diminished Responsibility – An Empirical Study of Three Categories of Mentally Disordered Offender together with Provocation  £149,230, 2003-  Project Director. Co-Investigator Professor B.J. Mitchell of Coventry University.

British Epilepsy Association (Epilepsy Action), Epilepsy and the Defence of Insanity, £5,000, 2007.

Professional esteem indicators

Editorial Board Member of the Journal of Forensic Psychiatry published by Routledge 1992-

Editorial Board Member Personality and Mental Health published by Wiley-Blackwell 1997-

Member of the Parole Board for England and Wales 1995-2001


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