The LexGaze Weekly - DECIPHER

Are you insane enough to plead Insanity in India?

Arijit Sanyal

Issue 25 | December 20, 2020

The Penal Code states, any act done by a person of unsound mind doesn’t constitute an offence [S. 84, IPC, 1860]. However, pleading insanity isn’t as simple as it appears, owing to the distinction between legal and medical insanity. While pleading the defence under the said section, the accused is required to prove they are legally insane, and any previous record of medical insanity howsoever strong, will not constitute a valid defence if the same falls short of establishing legal insanity [Kuttapan v State of Kerala (1986) Cr LJ 271 (Ker)]. While a person (accused) might be insane from the medical point of view, legal insanity requires them to prove that such medical insanity deprived them from the ability to understand the nature and/or consequences of their act.

What isn’t covered under S. 84, Indian Penal Code, 1860

Though the section does not include a definition for the term “insanity” or “unsound mind”, idiots, lunatics, delirious, or someone mentally incapacitated by way of drunkenness have been included within the purview of this defence. Though on one hand the legislation read with judicial decisions indicate that the section extends, but is not limited, to persons of old age incapable of using their cognitive skills, someone who acts unusually, individuals with fits of insanity etc. However, qualifying under the preceding categories is not sufficient to invoke the defence of this section [Surendra Mishra v. State of Jharkhand (2011) 11 SCC 495]. Moreover, a simple physical ailment which has impaired the cognitive abilities of the accused too, will not invoke the concerned section.

Legal Insanity

What needs to be done in order to grant the benefit of this section to the accused is two-fold viz, there must be unsoundness of some sort and the same was the reason which resulted in the loss of cognitive skills of the accused. However, problems with respected to examination of the accused has complicated the defence of insanity and made it appear like a defect of interpretation between mental and legal insanity. It is required by law that those, invoking the defence of legal insanity be examined by a competent authority but absence of uniform guidelines have made if extremely difficult. Even an examination which should commence at the earliest possible, are often delayed owing to procedural fault lines, which causes complications for the assessment with respect to examination of the accused during the commission of the offence and when they are examined by the psychiatrist.

The road ahead?

The Ministry of Home Affairs, has sought suggestions from the State governments with respect to the prospective Penal Code, expected to replace the current one. Though states are likely to differ in their approach, they should adopt a uniform approach while coming up with tests for insanity to negate the procedural glitches. Moreover, in order to maintain the desired uniformity the amendments made by the respective state governments should not differ in substance.

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