Insanity as a Defense under IPC – 9

Section 85.1 Voluntary Drunkenness- when an excuseNevertheless voluntary drunkenness is a factor which has to be taken into consideration at least in two types of cases namely

  • Where a specific intent is an essential element of an offence charged and the evidence shows that the state of intoxication of the accused is such that he is incapable of forming the specific intent essential to constitute the crime 
  • Where habitual drunkenness has resulted in such a diseased condition of the mind that the accused is incapable of knowing the nature of the act or that he is doing what is either wrong or contrary to law. In such a case M’Naughten Rules (Section 84, IPC 1860) would come into play and he would be absolved from liability. The most [1]common example of such an alcoholic disease is “Delirium Tremens” which is produced by prolonged and habitual excessive drinking and results in loss of the faculty of reasoning or serious defect of reasoning. In other words, “insanity”, whether produced by drunkenness or otherwise, is a defense to the crime charged. Under this section if a man is made drunk through stratagem or the fraud of others or through ignorance, or through any other means causing intoxication without the man’s knowledge or against his will, he is excused

Hadfield’s CaseHadfield was discharged from the army on the ground of insanity and was tried for high treason in attempting to assassinate King George III. The counsel of the accused, Lord Thomas Erskine, defended him and proved in front of the Judge that Hadfield only pretended to kill the King and is not guilty, on the ground of insane delusion from which the accused was suffering. Erskine stated that insanity was to be determined by the fact of fixed insane delusion and that such delusion under which the defendant acted is the main reason for his crime. This test was known as the “Insane Delusion Test”.

Finally, the third test was formulated in Bowler’s Case (1812). In this case, Le Blac, J. stated that the jury has to decide when the accused committed the offense, whether he was capable of distinguishing right from wrong or under the control of an illusion. After the Bowler’s Case, the courts have placed more emphasis on the capacity of the accused to distinguish right from wrong, though the test was not that clear.

English Law on the Defense of Insanity

English Criminal Law considers insanity a valid defense of crime. The fundamental definition of insanity is based on the M’Naghten Rules. These Rules are not about insanity medical definitions. In M’Naghten’s case, the Judges declared the following insanity principles:

  1. All are presumed to be sane 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 didn’t know the nature and the qualities of the act he was doing, or
  4. He did not know what he was doing was wrong

The accused must, therefore, prove on the basis of the facts that he was suffering from a defect of reason caused by mental illness in an effort to argue insanity, because either he was unaware of the nature and quality of the act, or he had not realized that his actions were wrong.

Analyzing Section 84 as a loophole, taking into consideration Adversarial form of Litigation followed in India

Now adjudication of justice is done by the courts, which are essentially made up of judges and lawyers. The Judges access the case upon its merits and then give their decision. Especially India being a country following an adversarial model, judges have less interaction as compared to the lawyers. Which means that Judges cannot probe investigations of their own, they play the role of an adjudicator, they have to give decisions based upon the evidence provided by both the parties in front of the court in contrast to this in an inquisitorial model the Judge can act as the police and probe investigation of his own, also he can cross question the accused as well as the witnesses example of some countries following the inquisitorial model are- Germany.

Peter Murphy in his book, Practical Guide to Evidence recounts an instructive example. A frustrated Judge in an English (adversarial) Court finally asked a barrister after witnesses had produced conflicting accounts, ‘Am I never to hear the truth?” ‘No, my lord, merely the evidence, replied counsel.

Sundra Manjhi Case- In the Sundra Manjhi Case, the Cuttack High Court laid down certain principles with relation to this section

  1. First the Court must presume the absence of Insanity, so that the burden of proof to prove insanity lies upon the defense
  2. The Court must also construe, whether the accused suffered from the alleged insanity at the time of committing the act or not, because Section 84 only provides protection to people who suffer from Insanity only at the time of doing the act
  3. To acknowledge the dichotomy between medical insanity and legal insanity. Meaning that the cognitive faulty must be so destroyed as to render one incapable of knowing the nature of his act, or what he was doing was contrary to the law

Once Unsoundness of mind has been determined, it is essential to be construed that this unsoundness of the mind led to the cognitive destruction of the accused in knowing that the nature of the act that he is doing is contrary to the Law. Ashiruddin Ahmed v The King explains this point, wherein the accused who was commanded by someone is paradise, took his 5-year-old-son into a mosque and thrust a knife in his throat, afterwards he went to his uncle and quietly told him what he has done. In this Court allowed the accused to take the defense of Section 84 of the Act, as it is shown by very actions of the accused that he was not aware, whether the act he was doing was contrary to the law.

Aishwarya Says:

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You may also like to read:

Implications of a National Emergency During Covid – Aishwarya Sandeep

Uniform Civil Code – Aishwarya Sandeep

International Legal Principles on Corruption – Aishwarya Sandeep


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