Since early times a distinction has been recognised in the law between idiots, that is to say natural fools who were incurable and whose lack of capacity was from birth1, and lunatics2, who became insane after birth and whose incapacity was or might be temporary or intermittent3. The expression 'non compos mentis' was used in an old statute of limitation4 as a general term, and was approved by Sir Edward Coke as being 'most sure and legal'5. The term 'lunatic' was used in the Lunacy Act 1890, which consolidated the previous
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