Defence of Insanity: Section 84 IPC

The responsibility that individuals take becomes a liability in law. This concept of responsibility forms the basis from where we derive our rights and duties to live life freely and with parallel accountability. It forms the basis for all the codes and statutes which define our rights and also giving the appropriate punishments for breach of such rights. A person is punished if he has done a certain act with his complete consent and his free wish and will. Therefore the law recognises the doctrine of “actus non facit reum nisi mens sit rea” and “amens ne sine mente”, i.e., the physical act alone does not make a person guilty, rather the mental component will.

A mentally unsound person is not punished for his crime, as he is devoid of free will, intelligence and knowledge of the act committed. According to Section 84 of IPC,

“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 law.”

To be acquitted or exempted through this section a mere plea of insanity if not sufficient. It has to be proved to the highest possible extent that unsoundness of mind existed at the time of the offence and this unsoundness was of such a high degree that it rendered him incapable of knowing the nature of the act and that even if he knew that the act was wrong, he did not know that he was wrong or against the law.

The law in this section distinguishes the difference between medical and legal insanity. A person is called medically insane if he is suffering from any disease or disorder of the mind. Medical insanity means the person’s consciousness of the bearing of his acts on those affected by it and by legal insanity is meant the person’s consciousness in relation to himself.

Defence of Insanity: Section 84 IPC

These aspects of insanity are however not considered in the eyes of the law. Law only considers those aspects of insanity which deals with the cognitive faculties of the mind. There can be no legal insanity unless cognitive faculties of the mind are, as a result of unsoundness of mind are so affected as to render the offender incapable of knowing the nature of the act of knowing that what he is doing is wrong or contrary to law. For the purpose of criminal law, the emphasis is therefore on the degree of unsoundness of mind. If a person is acting under the effect of delusions and the delusions are such that they impair his cognition, he is not liable. Section 84 of IPC consists of two mental conditions which exempt a man from responsibility for his crime and they are:

  • That his unsoundness of mind was such that he was incapable of knowing the nature of the act.
  • That it had precluded him from understanding that the act he was doing was wrongful.

Another requirement under law is that this unsoundness of mind should exist at the time of the commission of the act. It is only the presence of insanity at the time of the act which matters but not before or after that.

The use of the term ‘unsoundness of mind’ in section 84 of IPC has been advantageous as it has made the job of the court and lawyers easy since the terms insanity, idiocy, mental illness, madness, hallucinations, epilepsy, schizophrenia, postnatal and prenatal mental problems, etc., fall within the scope and definition of unsoundness of mind, thus a separate definition is not required. More importance is laid on the time of the incident and the state of mind during the time of the incident. The question regarding time is to be decided mainly upon the merits and facts of the case where the burden of proof lies on the defendant or the person taking the exemption under section 84 of IPC.

In the famous case of Rattan Lal vs. State of M.P, the court held that the important point of time during which the fact of unsoundness of mind should be proved and established is whether the time, when the crime is actually committed and whether the accused was in such a state of mind as to be entitled or attain the benefit under section 84 of IPC can only be rightly proved to be established from the circumstances which preceded, attend and followed the crime.

On the other hand, if the accused did not know the nature of the act he was committing then he is not responsible for it. Similarly, if he knew the nature of the act but did not know whether it was wrong or contrary to the law he is not liable. However, if the person did not know the nature of the act but knew that it is wrong as contrary to the law he is held responsible. If the evidence shows that the accused was conscious of nature, of the act, he must be presumed to have been conscious of its criminality.

Defence of Insanity: Section 84 IPC

The M’Naughten case marks a culmination in the development of the law of insanity in England which had hitherto presented a bewildering picture of confusion. Daniel M’Naughten was a paranoiac who believed himself to be persecuted by the Tories and to have been goaded beyond endurance to commit the alleged murder. Suffering from delusions of persecution, M’Naughten had determined to kill Sir Robert Peel but shot and killed Edward Drummond, by mistake. He was tried and acquitted on the ground of insanity. His acquittal evoked a public clamour. Many people believed that his story of delusion was a concoction and that the murder was a pure political assassination. A debate ensued in the House of Lords with a view to strengthening the law. And it was induced to employ the unusual procedure of addressing a series of questions to the fifteen judges of England to ascertain the law on the subject. There are a total of four M’Naughten rules which have been summarized as follows:

 (1) The accused is presumed to be sane until the contrary is proved.

 (2) It must be proved that the accused, when he committed the act, was labouring under such a defect of reason, from disease of the mind, as not to know, the nature and quality of the act he was committing, or, if he did know this, not to know that what he was doing was wrong.

(3) If the accused was conscious that the act was one which he ought not to do and if that act was at the same time contrary to the law of the land, he is punishable.

(4) If the accused labours under partial delusion only, and is not in other respects insane, he must be considered in the same situation as to responsibility as if the facts with respect to which the delusion exists were real.

Defence of Insanity: Section 84 IPC

The Indian Penal Code, 1860, does not deal with the question of proof and its quantum to avail of the defence of insanity. And it is a question falling within the ambit of the Indian Evidence Act, 1872. However, the treatment of the subject here becomes necessary in order to find out the practical limits of the defence of insanity in its evidential requirements. Under the law, every man is presumed to be sane and assumed to possess a sufficient degree of reason to be responsible for his acts unless the contrary is proved.

The burden of proving the commission of an offence is always on the prosecution, and that never shifts. The prosecution has to prove the same beyond a reasonable doubt. However, the onus of proving the existence of circumstances (Section 84 IPC) for insanity defence would be on the accused (Section 105 of the Evidence Act) and the court shall presume the absence of such circumstances. The accused has to prove by placing material before the court such as expert evidence, oral and other documentary evidence, presumptions, admissions or even the prosecution evidence, satisfying that he was incapable of knowing the nature of the act or of knowing that what he was doing was either wrong or contrary to law. The Supreme Court has ascertained that the crucial point of time at which unsoundness of mind should be established is the time when the crime is actually committed and the burden of proving this, lies on the appellant for claiming the benefit of Section 84.

Although section 84 tries to deal fairly with mentally ill offender sometimes there may be false acquittals or convictions. So, there is a need for incorporating wider concepts like emotions, preact situations etc. Scope of legal insanity is to be widened to incorporate some more aspects of medical insanity. Stress should be on removing the crime and not the criminal. Most of such criminals are emotionally unstable and usually undeterred by punishments. So care should be taken to improve and support them and not to punish them. Other than this the family of such persons suffers from guilt and social stigma. They should be supported and care should be taken to not let the entire family suffer because of one Individual. On the other hand, these criminals should not be let free in larger interests of society but may be detained in psychiatric hospitals and proper assessment of their mental status is to be made to avoid any false acquittals or convictions.