Plea of Insanity under section 84 IPC

Insanity under section 84 IPC

Section 84 IPC states that 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. Insanity under the law has originated from the M’Naghten Rule, The M’Naghten rule is a test for criminal insanity. Under the M’Naghten rule, a criminal defendant is not guilty by reason of insanity if, at the time of the alleged criminal act, the defendant was so deranged that she did not know the nature or quality of her actions or if she knew the nature and quality of her actions, she was so deranged that she did not know that what she was doing was wrong.

From the start to the end of the trial the burden of proof is on the prosecution to establish the guilt of the accused, if an exception is being claimed by the accused has to prove that exception as is established under section 105 of the Indian evidence act. The burden of proof in case of a plea of insanity lays down that:

  1. The prosecution must prove beyond reasonable doubt that the appellant had committed the offense with the requisite mens rea; and the burden of proving that always rests on the prosecution from the beginning to the end of the trial.
  2. There is a rebuttable presumption that the appellant was not insane, when he committed the crime, in the sense laid down by Section 84 of the Indian Penal Code: the appellant may rebut it by placing before the court all the relevant evidence – oral, documentary or circumstantial, but the burden of proof upon him is no higher than that rests upon a party to civil proceeding
  3.  Even if the accused was not able to establish conclusively that he was insane at the time he committed the offence, the evidence placed before the court by the accused or by the prosecution may raise a reasonable doubt in the mind of the court as regards one or more of the ingredients of the offence, including mens rea of the accused and in that case the court would be entitled to acquit the accused on the ground that the general burden of proof resting on the prosecution was not discharged.” (Dahyabhai Chhaganbhai Thakker vs State Of Gujarat on 19 March, 1964)

Difference between legal insanity and medical insanity 

Section 84 lays down the legal test of responsibility in cases of alleged unsoundness of mind. There is no definition of “unsoundness of mind” in IPC. The courts have, however, mainly treated this expression as equivalent to insanity. But the term “insanity” itself has no precise definition. It is a term used to describe varying degrees of mental disorder. So, every person, who is mentally diseased, is not ipso facto exempted from criminal responsibility. A distinction is to be made between legal insanity and medical insanity. A court is concerned with legal insanity, and not with medical insanity.(Hari singh gond v state of MP)

Therefore for the court to come to the conclusion it has to be established by the accused that at the time of the offence he/she was of an insane mind. However, it becomes difficult for the court to come to the conclusion to establish whether the accused was insane at the time of the commission of the offence. The Supreme Court while determining an offense under Section 84 of IPC opined that it is the totality of the circumstances seen in the light of the evidence on record which would prove that the Appellant, in that case, was suffering from the said condition. It was added: The unsoundness of mind before and after the incident is a relevant fact(Shrikant Anandrao Bhosale v. the State of Maharashtra)

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. On the other hand, 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.

Statistics on the plea of Insanity 

Insanity pleas had a success rate of about 17% in Indian High Courts in the past decade. The success rate of insanity pleas was found to be a modest 17.6%. The verdict of the lower court and the availability of documentary evidence of mental illness prior to the crime was associated with the decision of the High Court in cases where the insanity plea was raised. 

The information about a total of 102 cases that fulfilled the inclusion criteria was retrieved for detailed analysis. Kerala (31), Madras (15), and Himachal Pradesh (20) High Courts contributed 66 out of the 102 cases (approximately 65%), retrieved for evaluation. Rajasthan and Karnataka High Courts contributed nine cases each. Madhya Pradesh (Seven cases), Delhi (Five cases), Punjab (Three cases), Chhattisgarh (Two cases), and Andhra Pradesh (One case) contributed the remaining 18 cases (17% of the cases). No cases in the Hyderabad, Jammu, and Kashmir, or Orissa High Courts were retrieved in which the insanity plea was raised in the preceding ten years.

The most common crime in which an insanity plea was raised was murder, which amounted to 78 out of 102 cases (76.50%). It is pertinent at this point to note that in most cases, the accused was tried under several sections of IPC. For example, in a vast majority of cases in which the appellant was accused of murder, he or she was also accused of additional crimes like an attempt to murder, trespass, criminal intimidation, or voluntarily causing hurt using dangerous weapons. 

Case laws citied 

  1. Shrikant Anandrao Bhosale v. the State of Maharashtra
  2. Hari singh gond v state of MP
  3. Dahyabhai Chhaganbhai Thakker vs State Of Gujarat on 19 March, 1964

Websites referred:


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