Insanity as a Defense under IPC – 2

SECTION 84 of the Indian Penal CodeNothing 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 wrong or contrary to law.

COMMENTTo commit a criminal offence, mens rea is generally taken to be an essential element of crime. It is said furious nulla voluntus est. In another words, a person who is suffering from a mental disorder cannot be said to have committed a crime as he does not know what he is doing. For committing a crime, the intention and act both are taken to be the constituents of crime; actus non facit reum nisi mens sit rea. Every normal and sane human being is expected to possess some degree of reason to be responsible for his/her conduct and acts unless contrary is proved. But a person of unsound mind or a person suffering from mental disorder cannot be said to possess this basic norm of human behavior.

SECTION 84.1 McNaughten Rule and the origin of SECTION 84.1 OF IPC, 1860

Section 84 clearly gives statutory recognition to the defense of insanity as developed by the Common Law of England in a decision of the House of Lords rendered in the case of R vs Daniel McNaughten. In that case, the House of Lords formulated the famous McNaughten Rules on the basis of the five questions, which had been referred to them with regard to the defense of insanity. The reference came to be made in a case where McNaughten was charged with murder by shooting of Edward Drummond, who was the Pvt Secretary of the Prime Minister of England Sir Robert Peel. The accused McNaughten produced medical evidence to prove that, he was not, at the time of committing the act, in a sound state of mind.

He claimed that he was suffering from an insane delusion that the Prime Minister was the only reason for all his problems. He had also claimed that as a result of the insane delusion, he mistook Drummond for the Prime Minister and committed his murder by shooting him. The plea of insanity was accepted and McNaughten was found not guilty, on the ground of insanity. The aforesaid verdict became the subject of debate in the House of Lords. Therefore, it was determined to take the opinion of all the Judges on the law governing such cases. Five questions were subsequently put to the Law Lords. A comparison of answers to question no.2 and 3 and the provision contained in SECTION 84 of the IPC, 1860 would clearly indicate that the section is modelled on that answers.

The essential elements of Section 84 are as follows-

  • The accused must, at the time of commission of the act be of unsound mind
  • The unsoundness must be such as to make the accused at the time when he is doing the act charged as offence, incapable of knowing the nature of the act or that he is doing what is wrong or contrary to law. Where it is proved that the accused has committed multiple murders while suffering from mental derangement of some sort and it is found that there is (i) absence of any motive (ii) absence of secrecy (iii) want of pre-arrangement and (iv) want of accomplices, it would be reasonable to hold that [1]the circumstances are sufficient to support the inference that the accused suffered from unsoundness of mind.

Though the onus of proving unsoundness of mind is on the accused, yet it has been held that where during the investigation previous history of insanity is revealed, it is the duty of an honest investigator to subject the accused to a medical examination and place that evidence before the Court and if this is not done, it creates a serious infirmity in the prosecution case and the benefit of doubt has to be given to the accused. Prosecution is however, be discharged by producing evidence as to the conduct of the accused shortly prior to offence and his conduct at the time or immediately afterwards, also by evidence of his mental condition, his family history and so forth. Every person is presumed to know the natural consequences of his act. Similarly every person is also presumed to know the law. The prosecution has nor to establish these facts.

These are four kinds of persons who may be said to be non compos mentis (not of sound mind)

(1) an idiot,

(2) one made non compos by illness;

(3) a lunatic or a madman; and

(4) one who is drunk

An idiot is one who is of non-sane memory from his birth, by a perpetual infirmity, without lucid intervals; and those are said to be idiots who cannot count twenty, or tell the days of the week, or who do not know their fathers or mothers, or the like. A person made non compos mens-us by illness is excused in criminal cases from such acts as are committed while under the influence of his disorder. A lunatic is one who is afflicted by mental disorder only at certain periods and vicissitudes, having intervals of reason. Madness is permanent. Lunacy and madness are spoken of as acquired insanity, and idiocy as natural insanity.


 

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