Insanity Defense in India


The concept of responsibility connects with our fundamental convictions about human nature and dignity and everyday experience of guilt including blame and punishments lying within us. The recognition of ‘actus non facit reum nisi mens sit rea, which basically is that the physical act alone does not conclude a person to be guilty has been actively practiced in India. The modern law the intention is always taken in account that is the ‘mens rea’ whenever any act of offence is committed. The Indian Penal Code has aligned numerous punishments and penalty for any misconduct or wrong that may be civil or criminal in nature. To every such actions of the provisions, the guilty is equally privileged under a set of defenses lined up for him. One such defense prevailing in the Indian judicial system is the defense of insanity. Breathing life under section 84 of the Indian Penal Code, the defense describes provision available to the person of unsound mind. This is not only a general exception but one of the most used defense at least in India. This defense is based on the premise, where a person who commits the offense, cannot be held liable. Although the person has to be proved to be of unsound mind. According to law, the person who are not in right state of mind, are vulnerable in nature. Hence they are unaware about the nature of the actions they commit and are also ignorant of the consequence followed up by the act. The term insanity is a much more versatile concept than it seems. The imperative term has a distinguished meaning legally altogether. The insanity law has proven to be practical importance in understanding the flawed nature of the defenses the IPC upholds. The excusable act is the reason of major acquittals in the country. With major acquittal level under the provision, the law definitely seems to be a loophole in the procedure.


The insanity law has been a historical revolution with acquittal of an individual who attempted to kill the Prime Minister of Britain. This defense has been in existence for many centuries; however, it took a legal position since the last few centuries. The very famous McNaghten rule is the foundation of the codified insanity laws in the world. Under the law, it must be clearly demonstrated, that the accused was clearly at an insane state of mind during commission of the offence, while being unaware about the nature of act committed. The English criminal law validates the law of insanity as a legible defense under the general exceptions. In 1843, Daniel Mc Naughten, a wood turner in Glasgow, shot Edward Drummond, the chief secretary of the British Prime Minister Robert Peel under the influence that the deceased was Robert Peel. The Lords held up that Mc Naughten was persecuted by the Tories[1], and evidence was brought stated that Mc Naughten was completely deluded for some time during the action committed. His state of mind was apparent and vulnerable when he had to be coaxed. And finally pleaded not guilty. The acquittal set a major precedent henceforth. This made the Mc Naughten rule come up as the basic set of principles or general rules whereby any individual could plead not guilty. The legendary precedent was well taken by different countries as well. Even in India, insanity defense law, section 84 is solely based on the general excerpt of Mc Naughten rule. Section 84 deals with the act of a person of unsound mind; “Nothing is an offence which is done by a person who, at the time of doing it, by reason of unsoundness of mind, is incapable of knowing the nature of the act, or that he is doing what is either wrong or contrary to the law”. Although insanity defense is a neutral concept, yet the versatile nature drew more and more mayhem in the past for the British law. Majority number of people pleaded not guilty under the scope of insanity defense. The turmoil saw a huge number of genuine criminals being released on the same grounds. Therefore, the house of lords and the senior judges presided over where the state of mind of the guilty was to be codified under the same law. The judges came up with the concept of legal insanity. The provision unfolded into two halves which distinguished medical and legal insanity respectively. According to the learned councilmen under the plea of insanity defense, the individual was to be proven legally unsound, i.e. the individual was unaware about the consequence of the action that he was committing and the grievousness of the same. Only such a person could be said to be legally insane. The British law, mandates specific statements related to insanity law such as;

1. All are assumed to be of sane mind and to have enough reason, until proved contrary, to be responsible for their crimes.

2. It must be clearly demonstrated in order to establish the defense of insanity that at the time of the act, the accused was working under such a defect of reason, from mental illness, as

3. He did not know the nature and the qualities of the act he was doing or,

4. He did not know what actions he was doing and their followed up consequences.

The accused must therefore prove himself not guilty beyond reasonable doubt, the burden of proof for acquittal. Hence, he must prove on the basis of the facts that he was suffering from a defect caused by mental illness in an effort to argue for insanity defense.


The basic incapability of the human mind as to know the conditions he is in is describes as unsoundness of mind. It is a cognitive state which is vulnerable. Although every person who is mentally ill is not relieved from his responsibilities. The unsoundness of mind is the reason why the law made effective discrepancy between medical insanity and legal insanity. It is held by the supreme court that mentally ill people or psychopaths are not exempted from trials unless they prove the state of mind during the actions of offence. It is their responsibility to demonstrate their vulnerability. Medical insanity may cover a person’s previous career being a pragmatic individual. Where he has always been affected and in a delusional state of mind. While legal insanity is the state of mind during the commission of the crime. The distinction was first underlined in the case of Sindhi Alias Raman vs State of Maharashtra[2]. The court seeks that the insanity defense can only be exercised if the guilty counters unsoundness that exists during the time of the act. Even though a person is insane since a long time, the insanity should exist during the commission of the offence. This was encompassed in the case of Shrikant Anandrao Bhosale vs State of Maharashtra[3] whereby the burden of proof lies on the individual to be proven insane during the action. However, the onus of proving the existence of circumstances (sec. 84 IPC) for insanity defense, burden of proof would be on the accused and not the prosecution and the court shall presume the absence of such circumstances. Accused has to prove with material the incapability of the consequential actions and delusional state of mind.


In India, law of insanity is like a free bail, and not even a parole. The complete nature of the actions may be misleading as it is very difficult to prove the nature existing at the time of commission. The term ‘insanity’ does not have a proper definition. It may be used to describe the various degree of mental disorder due to its versatility per se. Hence, every mentally ill person is not ipso facto exempted from criminal responsibility. However, the degree of unsoundness is uncertain,

Indian law completely lays down certain codified procedure. Unless they are misleading in nature. How do you determine the mental state of a person during the offence who is completely sane and yet pleads for defense of insanity? Without any statistical data it is impossible to determine the types numerous sources of criminals being released in the scope of this law. Due to the acceptance of only legal insanity, it is quite worthwhile in proving the nature. Well, the question is, are all medically insane person be called legally insane? Even though the doctor verifies an individual to be medically unsound, on what basis has the accused to be proved of being legally insane? Unless the contradicting factor of culpable homicide[4] prevails. Weather a person is or isn’t vulnerable enough to gather the knowledge of being instigated by person to commit any such action. The accused can be defined under the law of insanity, and the acquitted, yet the criminal aloof. The misleading nature of the action is not proved. Adding to the argument, a person with intervals of insanity tremor may be very well acknowledged as legally insane if he claims to be unaware or vulnerable during the time of the offence. The uncertainty is cannot be questioned. Although it is always assumed every person is sane and has to prove his vulnerability beyond the reasonable doubt. Then, such a person with intervals of insanity claims to be insane during the commission as of no doctor’s statement can be verified due to prevailing nature of legal insanity over medical insanity.

The word ‘incapacity’ is another terminology with versatile meaning. It can be that of the nature of act and the consequence followed up while pleading for insanity. The IPC states the accused should be unable to appreciate the effects of his conduct. Another part is knowing the right and wrong. The accused must be unaware about what is right or wrong or else contrary to the law. However, as a practical matter, there would be there would probably be very few instances where defense is pleaded in which the distinction between ‘legal’ and ‘moral’ error would be necessary. The distinction is quite unclear while announcing the verdict. The major reason why the rural and sub-urban cases have major acquittals in the murder cases with the defense of insanity.

Towards the positive, it is always the confessing of crime by the individual, even not in the right state of mind during the act. Yet this is always superseded by the complete flawed concept of giving quite an easy no offence situation. Even though the acquittals are always confronted with minor penalties. The act needs to come up with stricter and abiding policies to sustain the defense. In a similar case of Etwa Oran vs State of UP[5], the SC stated that a mere possibility that the accused may have been insane was insufficient to establish the kind of insanity defense in section 84 of IPC.


The defense of insanity is a loophole for the criminals despite many advantages. They are supposed to be the most weapon as a defense to escape from any crime. As it is not just concerned with the mental status but with legal insanity, which does not have a fixed definition or proper way of knowing it. Mere arguments are not enough to decide the degree of punishment the accused to be served with. A complete well-defined terminology should accompany the ‘legal insanity’. Section 84 should be amended to incorporate the partial defense of diminished responsibility for murdering an insane person. The scope of the section should be expanded to incorporate the defense of automatism under the defense of unhealthy mind. The insanity plea in India should be scrutinized to utmost level. This should ensure that no false pleas can be brought in. With more than 30% success rate of the insane laws, India needs to back up the policy to control the levels of the pleas in the same defense.


© The People Bookmark | 2020

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