The Exception of Insanity under IPC

the exception of insanity under IPC

Aishwarya, a 2nd-Year law student has written this article titled as “The exception of insanity under IPC”.

IntroductionThe Exception of Insanity under IPC

Chapter IV of the Indian Penal Code consists of general exceptions which are covered under Section 84, 85 and 86. It consist of the various defenses in which the general presumption is that an individual is not liable for the crime committed. The Digest of Criminal Law by Stephen mentions that an act is not a crime if the person who had been engaged in such an act was barred by the reason of mental defect of that person which prevented that person from anticipating the nature of the act committed and from knowing that the act committed is wrong.

IPC emphasizes on the maxim “actus non facit reum nisi mens sit rea”. It means that an act alone cannot deem a person to be guilty unless and until it has been accompanied by a guilty intention. The exact word “insanity” has not been mentioned anywhere. However, the term “unsoundness of mind” has been used with respect to insanity. It is represented by the maxim “Noncompos mentis” which includes a person going through a mental disorder by the reason of their illness, a lunatic person or a person experiencing intoxication.

Section 84 of the Indian Penal Code

It mentions the act committed by a person of unsound mind. Nothing is considered to be an offense if it undertaken by an individual who at the time of doing an act was incapable of understanding the exact nature of the act or understanding if the act is wrong. The defense of insanity is used in case of criminal proceedings with the help of Section 84 IPC. It is based on the presumption that one cannot be considered legally accountable of a crime of which he/she was unable to distinguish the nature of due to insanity of mind. The individual is considered to be not someone ho cannot distinguish between what is right and what is wrong.

Insanity can exist at two levels- in perpetuity or at lucid intervals. Insanity in perpetuity refers to a situation in which an individual is of unsound mind since birth. The individuals that cannot count and do not know their parent’s names come under this category. Insanity at lucid intervals refers to a situation in which the incapacity of a person might be at intervals. Lunacy and madness are considered to be terms associated with “insanity.”

There is a significant amount of difference between the terms “insanity” and “idiocracy.” “Insanity” refers to a state of being insane or lunatic while “idiocracy” refers to a state of being stupid. The term “idiocracy” is used for a person whose intelligence level is below average. Moreover, who cannot understand things in the manner in which they are explained. Even an “insane” person cannot understand things in the manner in which they are explained due to the reason of their mental incapacity. However, an idiotic person might or might not have mental incapacity.

Categories of persons of unsound mind

The persons of an unsound mind are categorized into the following types:

  1. An idiot
  2. A lunatic
  3. A person of an unsound mind due to illness
  4. A drunken person

Will a person who becomes “insane” after committing the crime be held liable?

To claim insanity (The Exception of Insanity under IPC) as a defense, it must be proven that the person was insane during the offense. A plea of insanity at the time of trial would be of no use and would not be considered. A person cannot escape from his liability if he/she has turned insane after the commission of crime. To utilize the insanity defense per Section 84 of the Indian Penal Code, the person must be mentally unsound during the crime.

How did the plea of insanity originate?

The plea of insanity originated under the M’ Naghten Rule. Now let us understand what the M’ Naghten Rule actually is. Daniel M’Naghten, a Scotsman, faced trial for the murder of Edmund Drummond, private secretary to Sir Robert Peel. Sir Robert Peel was the then Prime Minister. He had been under an “insane delusion” that Sir Robert Peel was the person who had injured him but instead of shooting Sir Robert Peel, shot and killed Edmund Drummond, the private secretary.

The accused in the aforementioned case, M’ Naghten pleaded for insanity. Medical evidence confirmed “morbid delusion” impaired his control, leading to the loss of self-control. Therefore, he had been acquitted on the ground of insanity. His Acquittal was hotly debated in the House of Lords and had become a matter of grave discussion. The House of Lords referred the matter to a bench which consisted of fifteen judges who were given the responsibility of laying down of a law which included the criminal responsibility in case of lunacy. The bench had been asked some questions regarding this. The questions and the answers in this case are popularly known as M’ Naghten Rules. The modern law of insanity’s foundation is laid down by the M’ Naghten Rules.

Propositions drawn by Judges:
  • Every person is believed to be of sound mind and have a reasonable justification for the actions done by him. Unless they have been held liable for a crime committed by them which in order to fulfill the Jury’s satisfaction has to be proved that the person committing the offense, at the time of committing it was of unsound mind.
  • In order to undertake a defense of insanity, it has to be proved that the person was undergoing insanity at the time of the commission of the act due to which he was unable to understand the nature of the act and could not contemplate if the act was right or wrong.
  • If the accused had been aware of the fact that the act committed by him was not supposed to be done by anyone and was in opposition to law, then the accused will be deemed liable for punishment.
  • No evidence on accused’s insanity should be permitted from a medical witness who never saw them pre-trial.
  • Where any individual committing a criminal act under some delusion regarding the facts of the case which conceals the actual nature of the act committed by him, he would have the same degree of responsibility which he would have had on the basis of the facts which he imagined.

Criticisms of the M’ Naghten Rule

There have been various criticisms surrounding the M’ Naghten Rule which are as follows:

  1. Rule states that If a person can’t discern right from wrong, they are considered insane. Despite knowing what is right, certain situations render the person powerless to resist doing wrong actions. It’s known as an “irresistible impulse,” where a person can’t control doing wrong actions. For instance, this would include people who suffer from manias as well as paraphilias.
  2. Critics argue the second ground allows defendants to easily evade responsibility for their committed offenses. They can easily escape from the criminal liability which has been imposed on them simply if they have established that they were going through a severe mental disorder at the time of the commission of the crime irrespective of the degree up to which the mental disorder has aided the person in the commission of the said offense.
  3. There have been certain situations in which it has been observed that the definition of insanity in legal terms is not in congruence with the medical definition of insanity or the criterion that the term “insanity” has to fulfill in medical terms.
  4. Lastly, the rule disregards the effect on the public. Unclear if someone’s mental state risks public harm due to insanity or unsoundness; not mentioned explicitly.

The Difference between medical insanity and legal insanity

Section 84 of the Indian Penal Code mentions the legal answerable test which is distinguishable from the medical test. It is important to note that the willingness of the mind does not simply arise from the absence of maturity in a person but also from a state of mind which is “corrupt.” This state of mind which is termed as “corrupt” will provide an exemption from liability with respect to the crime and it differs from the legal as well as the medical point of view. From the medical point of view, it would be completely right to mention that every person at the point of committing a crime is insane and therefore is entitled to claim an exemption from criminal liability.

From the legal point of view, a person is deemed to be under insanity when he/she cannot distinguish between what action is right and what action is wrong. In such a case the person ends up committing an act that is contrary to law.

The Supreme Court had declared that people who are termed to be “mentally ill” as well as “psychopaths” cannot always claim an exemption from criminal liability as a major chunk of responsibility lies on the defense counsel as well as the defendant to prove insanity at the time of the commission of an offense. Arijit Pasayat and the Bench of Justices, DK Jain, stated while upholding the life sentence of a man who cut off his wife’s head that “the mere abnormality or insanity of mind, partial delusion, irresistible impulse, or compulsive behavior of a psychopath does not protect from criminal prosecution.”

Case law of Hari Singh Gond v. State of Madhya Pradesh

The Supreme Court in the case of Hari Singh Gond v. State of Madhya Pradesh[1] had mentioned a test of responsibility when it comes to mental insanity. The Indian Penal Code provides no definition of “mental soundness”. Awareness of actions and consequences defines the general state of mind for a person. Even the term “insanity” does not have a particular description. It is just regarded as a term that can describe the various degrees of mental disorder. So each and every person, in fact, cannot be exempted from the commission of an offense. There has to be a distinction between legal and medical insanity. As the court only takes into account legal insanity and not medical insanity.

Case law Surendra Mishra v. State of Jharkhand

It had been held in the case of Surendra Mishra v. State of Jharkhand[2] that each and every person who is suffering from mental illness cannot ipso facto (by the fact) be exempted from the crime committed by him/her.

Case law Shrikant Anandrao Bhosale v. State of Maharashtra

The Supreme Court had determined the offense mentioned under the case of Shrikant Anandrao Bhosale v. the State of Maharashtra[3] that one should observe the totality of the circumstances along with the evidence presented in the case which would actually prove that the offense had been committed.    In such circumstances, the unsoundness of mind before as well as after the case continues to remain a pertinent fact.

[1] Criminal Appeal No. 321 of 2007 – The Exception of Insanity under IPC

[2] Criminal Appeal No.177 of 2006 – The Exception of Insanity under IPC

[3] 2002 (9) TMI 883 – The Exception of Insanity under IPC