Mental Capacity Under Indian Law

The legal system in India is referred to as Indian Legal Systems. There was a unique legal tradition in ancient times, with a historically independent school of legal theory and practise. In India, law as a subject of religious precepts and intellectual debate has a long and rich history.  In India, the Arthashastra (about 400 BC) and the Manu smriti (around 100 AD) were influential treatises that served as authoritative legal counsel.  Tolerance and plurality were important to Manu’s worldview, which was cited throughout Southeast Asia. [2] Sharia law was introduced to India during the Islamic era, but it only applied to Muslims. There was a breach in the practise when India became part of the British Empire, and Hindu and Islamic laws coexisted.

As a result, the country’s current legal system is mostly based on the British system and bears little resemblance to pre-British institutions. Much of modern Indian law is founded on English Common Law, a system of law based on recorded judicial precedents that displays significant European and American influence, and many of the British-enacted laws are still in effect. As a result, most of the laws governing people with mental illnesses (PMI) may be traced back to the British period.

The idea of mental illness, the care of the mentally ill, and the law all have a dynamic interaction. According to Rappeport, the court is “another house… with its own set of rules” for psychiatrists. While the psychiatrist’s first interest is the diagnosis of mental problems and the patient’s well-being, the court’s primary concern is frequently the determination of competency, risk, diminished responsibility, and/or the welfare of society. As a result, most of the older PMI legislation in India was similarly focused with these issues. However, law enacted since the 1980s tends to place a greater emphasis on PMI rights.

Indian laws regulating treatment of persons with mental disorders When it comes to treating PMI, the relationship between psychiatry and legislation frequently comes into play. Psychiatric patients’ personal liberty is frequently restricted as a result of PMI treatment. The majority of countries have laws governing the treatment of psychiatric patients. Though Ayurveda contains detailed descriptions of many mental diseases in numerous treatises, the care of the mentally sick in Indian asylums is a British invention.

Following the British crown’s seizure of India’s governance in 1858, a slew of laws was enacted in fast succession to regulate the care and treatment of mentally ill people in British India. These statutes were enacted are
 The Lunacy (Supreme Courts) Act, 1858
 The Lunacy (District Courts) Act, 1858
 The Indian Lunatic Asylum Act, 1858 (with amendments passed in 1886 and 1889)
 The Military Lunatic Acts, 1877.

These Acts outlined the procedures for establishing mental asylums and admitting mental patients. The British scenario of the mid-nineteenth century provided as the backdrop for India’s lunacy statutes at the time. The numerous Acts of 1858 mirrored the legalistic framework for dealing with mentally sick people.

The Constitution of India
Article 21 of India’s constitution states that no one may be deprived of his or her life or personal liberty unless in accordance with legal procedures. According to this article, “facilities for reading, writing, and expressing oneself in varied forms, freely moving about, and mixing and comingling with fellow human beings” are included in the right to life and personal liberty.

A person is ineligible for registration in an electoral roll if he is of unsound mind and has been pronounced so by a competent court, according to the Representation of People Act, 1950 (sec 16). As a result, the person is ineligible to hold public posts such as President, Vice-President, Ministers, Members of Parliament, and State Legislatures under the Constitution.

The Indian Contract Act
Any individual of sound mind can make a contract, according to the Indian Contract Act of

  1. A person is considered to be of sound mind for the purpose of making a contract if, at the time of making it, he is capable of understanding it and making a logical decision as to its effect on his interest, according to Section 12 of the Act. When he is of sound mind, a person who is generally of unsound mind but rarely of sound mind may make a contract. When a person is normally of sound mind but occasionally of unsound mind, he is not permitted to enter into a contract. It indicates that a PMI who is currently clear of psychotic symptoms can participate in the study.
    Hindu Marriage and Divorce
    The following are the prerequisites for mental problems that must be met before the marriage can be solemnised under the Hindu Marriage Act, 1955.
    1.Neither party is unable to give valid consent as a result of mental incapacity.
    2.Must not suffer from mental problems of such a nature or magnitude that they are unsuited
    for marriage and childbearing, even if capable of giving permission.
    3.Must not have recurrent episodes of lunacy.
    Mental sickness, halted or incomplete mental development, psychopathic condition, or any
    other disorder or impairment of the mind, including schizophrenia, is referred to as “mental
    disorder.” A persistent mental condition or disability (including sub-normal IQ) that results in
    abnormally aggressive or gravely irresponsible behaviour on the part of the other party,
    whether or not it requires or is susceptible to medical treatment, is referred to as
    “psychopathic disorder.”

The term “incurably” of unsound mind cannot be defined so broadly as to include feeble- minded people or people with a dull intellect who comprehend the nature and consequences of the act and can thus regulate themselves, their affairs, and their reactions in a normal manner (A.I.R. 1969 Guj-48 and 78 CLT 1994 561). Divorce could not be granted when there was sufficient evidence for the court to decide that the wife’s minor mental disease was not of such a nature and extent that the husband could not fairly be expected to live with her (A.I.R., 1982 CAL 138). Each instance of schizophrenia must be evaluated individually.

Testamentary Capacity
Testamentary capacity refers to the legal ability to execute a Will, which is a legal declaration of a testator’s intentions regarding his property that he wishes to be carried out after his death. The Indian Succession Act of 1925 (section 59), for example, states:
 A Will can be written by anyone of sound mind.
 People who are normally insane may make a Will during a period when they are not insane.
 No one can form a Will if he is in such a condition of mind, whether due to intoxication, illness, or any other reason, that he is unaware of what he is doing.

Testamentary capacity means that a person’s complete sense and mental sanity were required to affirm and sign the Will after fully comprehending his assets and what he was doing by drafting a Will. He is fully aware of whom he is naming the assets to, how they are tied to him, and what consequences this may have in the future.

Criminal Liability
“Nothing constitutes an offence, which is done by a person who, at the time of committing it, by reason of unsoundness of mind, is incapable of comprehending the nature of the act, or that he is doing what is either improper or contrary to law,” according to the Indian Penal Code of 1860. The McNaughton Rules, which have been incorporated into Section 84, specify the criminal liability of mentally ill people in our courts. The Supreme Court has ruled that the law presumes everyone over the age of discretion to be sane, and that any defence based on insanity must be proven. If insanity is shown as a defence, such individuals are sent to Psychiatric Hospitals under section 471 I of the Cr.P.C., 1973. There have been cases where the sentence was reduced due to mental illness. When a woman (accused) felt her life was becoming unbearable as a result of family strife, she leaped into a well with her children, it was determined that the only sentence that could be issued was the lower sentence of life imprisonment (AIR 1953 MB 61). Any action taken in good faith for the benefit of a person of unsound mind by or with the approval of the guardian or other person having lawful custody of such person is protected under Section 89 of the IPC.

Abetment of suicide by an insane person is punishable by death or life imprisonment under Section 305 of the Indian Penal Code (IPC).


The PMI has been examined in relation to important legal laws in the Indian legal system. Because the majority of the laws were enacted during the colonial period or had a colonial background, British influence is plainly obvious. Laws relating to PMI are currently at a fork in the road, with the majority of them being revised to align with the UNCRPD-2006. Human rights campaigners want perfect legal capacity to PMI, whilst psychiatrists want to keep the option of involuntary hospitalisation in exceptional instances. It is important to note that the ultimate goal of any law measure should be the welfare of the PMI and society as a whole.

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