The Indian Penal Code considers insanity as a general exception under section 84. Criminal intent is necessary to make a person legally liable for a crime. And therefore, a person’s mental capacity to form a criminal intent is significant in determining the criminal liability of that person. A person may lack enough mental ability to form a criminal intent due to some defect of the mental faculty.
The defence of insanity can be pleaded where the unsoundness of mind of the offender is to such an extent that he cannot understand the nature of the act or distinguish between what he is doing is right or wrong.
Unsoundness of a person’s mind as a defence is given under Chapter IV, section 84 of IPC. And, it is based on M’Naghten’s Rule.
What Is M’Naghten Rule?
Daniel M’Naghten was a Scotsman, and he was tried for the murder of Edmund Drummond, Private Secretary of Sir Robert Peel, the then Prime Minister. He was under an insane delusion that Sir Robert Peel had injured him, and mistaking Drummond for Sir Robert Peel, he shot and killed him.
The accused pleaded for insanity in his defence. The medical evidence that produced showed he was suffering from a morbid delusion, due to which he lost his power of control. And therefore, he was acquitted on the ground of insanity.
As his acquittal caused a great sensation, it became the subject matter for debate in the House of Lords. Therefore, the House of Lords referred this matter to a bench of fifteen judges who were ordered to lay down the law relating to criminal responsibility in case of lunacy. The bench was asked to answer some questions, and these questions and answers are known as M’Naghten Rules. These M’Naghten Rules form the basis of the modern law of insanity.
The following proposition can be drawn from the answers given by the judges:-
1. Every person is believed to be of sound mind and to have a reasonable extent of justification to held liable for the crime committed by him until it is proved to the jury’s satisfaction or the court that the man committing an offence was of unsound mind at the time of the commission of the offence.
2. To plead for a defence of insanity, it must be proved that the person was suffering from such a mental disease at the time of the commission of the act, which made him unable to understand the nature of the act he was doing or what he was doing was right or wrong.
3. If the accused was aware of the fact that the act he was doing was not ought to be done and that act was at the same time opposite to the law, he will be punishable.
4. A medical witness who has not seen the accused before the trial should not be asked for his viewpoint on evidence about what he thinks that the accused is insane or not.
5. Where the criminal act is committed by a man under some insane delusion as to the surrounding facts, which conceals from him the true nature of the act he is doing, he will be under the same degree of responsibility as he would have been on the facts as he imagined them to be.
Criticism of M’Naghten Rule
M’Naghten Rule has been criticized for various reasons. Some major reasons are as follows:
1. The rule evolved that a person is insane if he is unable to differentiate between right or wrong. But there may be some medical conditions where a person knows of ‘what is right’ but is irresistible in doing wrong. It is often termed ‘irresistible impulse’ where a person can’t prevent themselves from doing wrong. For example, people suffering from manias and paraphilias.
2. The rule has been criticized for making an easy way to escape for the defendant. He can easily escape from criminal liability if affected with severe mental disorder irrespective of the fact that to what extent this disorder aided in the accomplishment of crime.
3. Some situations have been seen where the legal definition of insanity does not conjoint with the medical criteria laid down for insanity.
4. It is also criticised because only a legal definition for insanity is given and a medical definition for insanity is not given under the M’Naghten rule. The M’Naghten rule will be adequate if it contains both.
5. The rule does not explain or give details about terms like temporary or permanent insanity. There may be an illness that is temporary in nature and rises at different intervals in a person’s lifetime.
6. The rule does not explain the situation, whether the insanity or unsoundness of mind of the person affects the public at large. Will it pose a threat to the public or not is not discussed in the rule.
Difference Between Legal Insanity and Medical Insanity
The term legal insanity and medical insanity are different from each other. Medical insanity is entirely dependent on medical grounds. In contrast, legal insanity relies on those factors that are required to be proved in a court of law to permit the accused to be pardoned for a charge. Legal insanity, on the one hand, provides a good defence from criminal liability and medical insanity does not.
Section 84 of IPC
The Indian law on insanity is given under section 84 of the Indian Penal Code. It is based on the first two prepositions given above.
Section 84 of IPC says that if a person commits an act because of unsoundness of mind, he will not be liable for an offence. However, it is to be noted that the unsoundness of mind must be at the time of the commission of the act, and it must be to such an extent that the offender is incapable of knowing the nature of the act or that what he was doing was either wrong or opposite to the law.
A person could plead for the defence under this section if he was unable to differentiate between good and evil because of unsoundness of mind. The accused can in no way be protected under this section if he knew that the act done by him is wrong, even if he did not know that the act was opposed to the law.
What Happens if a Person Becomes Insane After Committing a Crime?
It must be proved that the insanity existed at the time of committing the act constituting the offence. A plea of insanity at the time of trial is not considered and is of no use. After committing a crime, if a person becomes insane or of unsound mind, he can’t escape from his liability of crime. For defence under section 84 IPC, it is necessary to be insane or of unsound mind at the time of committing an offence.
Persons of Unsound Mind
The persons of unsound mind can be classified into four categories:
- An idiot
- A lunatic
- A person made of unsound mind due to illness
- Drunken person
Essential Elements of Section 84 IPC
The essential elements of section 84 IPC can be outlined as follows:
- The act must be done by a person who is of an unsound mind.
Case law: Siddhapal Kamala Yadav vs State of Maharashtra (2009)
- Such a person must be incapable of knowing the nature of the act, or that the act is opposed to law or that the act was right or wrong.
- Such incapacity must be by the unsoundness of the offender’s mind.
- The incapacity must exist at the time of the commission of the act constituting the offence.
Case law: Gunadhar Mondal vs State (1979)