The insanity defence refers to a defence that the defendant can plead in a criminal trial. In an insanity defence, the defendant admits to the action. But asserts a lack of culpability based on his mental illness. (1) Section 84 of IPC Act of person of unsound mind: “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”(1). The insanity defence is a neutral concept.

The insanity defense within the courtroom is typically taken as an excuse or as an alternative being a justification of the facts and the crime. The important question that arises with the insanity defense is about the competency at the standing trail in the court. Within the requirements of due process of law, an accused cannot stand competent for the trial if he/she is legally incompetent. As directed by the Supreme Court of Dusky an individual is claimed to be incompetent if he/she is unable to communicate properly to her attorney about the proceedings of the case. This was administered because the proceeding involves some sort of the psychological evaluation process to which an incompetent person cannot withstand. In absence of his psychological involvement and understanding within the status quo, it merely remains a moot instead of a standing trail.

One of the foremost important concept of responsibility connects with our most and foremost fundamental convictions about attribute and dignity based on everyday experience of guilt and innocence and also of blaming and punishment. Punishing an individual, who isn’t liable for the crime, could be a violation of their basic human rights and fundamental rights under the Constitution of India. It also brings the due process of law, if that person isn’t in a position to defend himself within the court of law, evoking the principle of natural justice. The affirmative defence of legal insanity applies to the present fundamental principle by excusing those individuals who are mentally disordered or offenders whose disorder deprived them of any rational understanding of their conduct at the time of the execution of the crime that he is convicted of. Hence, it’s generally admitted that incapacity to commit crimes exempts the individual from punishment. This can be recognized by the legislation of most of the civilized nations. This issue has raised a significant debate among medical, psychology and law professionals across the globe.

Some scholars consider it is helpful for people who are literally incapable of understanding the difference between just and unjust but contradicting this there are some other scholars who believe the defense of insanity is giving an unfair chance to the culprits who act insane but are not. A significant study within the forensic psychiatry of an Indian setting which had   occurred in 2011, during which almost 5024 prisoners were assessed on semi-structured interview schedule reported that 4002 (79.6%) individuals may have been diagnosed as having either of any mental illness or substance or drug use. After excluding drug abuse, 1389 (27.6%) prisoners still had a diagnosable psychological disorder. Another study from India portrays a disconsolate picture of patients in a forensic psychiatry setting, for there is a requirement to streamline the procedure of referral, diagnosis, treatment,  certification and so on.

Though the insanity defense has taken a legal position within the last three centuries it has been into existence for many years. there have been various tests accustomed declare an individual legally insane like the Wild Beast test, The Insane Delusion test, and therefore the test of capacity to tell apart between just and unjust. These three tests laid the foundation for the landmarked or the significant Mc Naughten rule. This Mc Naughten rule became a noteworthy precedent for the law concerning the defense of insanity.

In the year 1843, Daniel Mc Naughten, who was a wood-turner from Glasgow, Scotland ;  shot and killed Edward Drummond mistaking him for Sir Robert Peel. Mc Naughten believed that he was persecuted by the Tories (The Tories were members of two political parties which existed in the Kingdom of England), and evidence was brought to show that he had been totally deluded on this subject for a particular amount of time. His state of mind was apparent from the outset when he had to be coaxed, and eventually he was tricked, into pleading “not guilty.” After hearing seven medical witnesses testify that he was completely insane, the judge stopped the trial, the jury brought within the special verdict without reviewng and without retiring, and Mc Naughten was then forcibly committed to the Bethlem Hospital. Immediately thereafter, five propositions were made which were further called The Mc Naughten rules.

This Mc Naughten rule became a signifying precedent for the law concerning the defence of insanity. Even, in India, insanity defence law, Section 84 IPC (It is stated in the first paragraph) is solely supported the Mc Naughten rules. Since it is drafted, no changes have been further made. However, in 1971, it was based on by the Law Commission of India to revisit the Section 84 in their 42nd report, but later no changes were made.

Section 84 IPC may be divided into two varied categories of, major criteria (medical requirement of mental illness) and minor criteria (loss of reasoning requirement). Major criteria or the mental illness requirement means the person must be laid low with psychopathy during the commitment of the act. Minor criteria or loss of reasoning requirement means that the person is:

  •  Incapable of knowing the character of the prevailing act or
  • Incapable of knowing his act is wrong or incorrect or
  • Incapable of knowing it’s contrary to law.


Both major (mental illness) and minor (loss of reasoning) criteria constitute to legal insanity.

Section 84 IPC, clearly embodies a basically fundamental maxim of the criminal jurisprudence that is so called, (a) “Actus nonfacit reum nisi mens sit rea” (an act does not constitute guilt unless finished a guilty intention) and (b) “Furiosi nulla voluntas est” (a person with psychopathy has no free will). this suggests that an act doesn’t constitute a criminal offense unless it’s finished a guilty intention called “mens rea.” Hence, Section 84 IPC fastens no culpability on persons with psychopathy because they will have no rational thinking or any necessarily guilty intent as concerned.


There are mainly two types of insanity:

Temporary Insanity: A condition where an individual is insane only for a particular period of time. Some temporary mental illnesses or insanities include depression, anxiety or eating disorders, schizophrenia, and addictive behaviours. There are two possible outcomes within the defense of temporary insanity, one is ‘not guilty because insane’ and therefore the other is ‘guilty but cannot be tried because insane.

Permanent Insanity: A condition where someone is persisting a bad psychological state continuously. It is often proved from past records and events that had occurred proving that the person is permanently insane and is incapable of understanding the gravity of any situation or so.

To be held criminally responsible, two essential elements have to be proven, beyond any  reasonable doubt, (a) the person committed the act or actus reus (b) and in doing so, the person acted with his or her own free will, also known as the guilty mind or mens rea.



Honourable Supreme Court in the following case observed that Section 84 of IPC lays down the legal test of responsibility in cases of alleged unsoundness of mind. The courts have,   mainly treated this phrase also as equivalent to insanity. But it is to be considered as the term ‘insanity’ itself has no any precise definition. It is a term used to describe varying or fluctuating degrees of mental disorder. So, every person, who is mentally diseased or even distressed, is not ipso facto exempted from their criminal responsibility. A distinction is to be further made between legal insanity and medical insanity. A court is concerned with legal insanity, and not with the medical insanity.


The High Court of Patna, in this case, stated that a mere possibility that the accused may have been insane was insufficient to establish the kind of insanity that is inferred in section 84 of IPC.


The High Court of Madras also held that the crucial point of time for deciding whether the benefit of section 84 should be given or not, is the material time when the offence takes place. Further in coming to that conclusion, the relevant circumstances are to be taken into consideration. It would be dangerous and inconclusive to admit the defence of insanity upon any arguments derived merely from the character of the crime. It is only unsoundness of mind that naturally impairs all the cognitive faculties of the mind that can form a ground of exemption from any criminal responsibility.


The Apex Court has stated further that any accused who seeks any exoneration or relief from the liability of any act under Section 84 of the IPC is to prove legal insanity and not for medical insanity (As Stated Above). Further, it also said that expression of “unsoundness of mind” has not been defined within the IPC, and it’s mainly been treated as resembling insanity. But the term insanity carries different meaning in numerous contexts and describes fluctuating degrees of mental disorders. Every individual who is or has been stricken by any kind of psychological disorder has been exempted from the criminal liability. The mere incontrovertible fact that the accused is conceited, odd, irascible, and his brain isn’t quite very well, or that the physical and mental ailments from which he suffered had rendered his intellect weak or affected his emotions or indulges in any certain unusual acts, or had fits of insanity at short intervals or that he was subject to epileptic fits and there was abnormal behaviour or the behaviour is queer doesn‘t seem to be sufficient to draw in the applying of Section 84 of the Indian legal code.

Further the Supreme Court in its judgment notified that though the accused suffered from   any psychological inability or mental inability of his or her mind even before and after the incident but it alone cannot infer onto a balance of any preponderance of probabilities that the appellant at the time of the commitment of the offense failed to know the character of his act; and that it had been either wrong or it has been contradictory to law, hence the insanity defence was rejected. In a similar case, despite having a prior medical record of insanity which was proved as an evidence in the court, the court convicted the accused supported his subsequent conduct viz., his act of concealing the weapon, bolting the door to forestall arrest and absconding thereafter because the said acts were held by the court to be a display of consciousness of the guilt.


This court had held that whether or not the accused was or was not able to establish conclusively that he was insane at the time he committed the offense, the evidence placed before the court may raise any reasonable doubt within the mind of the court as regards one or more of the ingredients of the offense, including guilty mind of the accused and in the following case the court would be entitled to acquit the accused on the ground that the overall burden of proof resting on the prosecution was not discharged. Though the burden of proof is on the accused, he is not merely required to prove the same beyond all reasonable doubt, but to satisfy the preponderance of probabilities. The burden of proof casted upon him is no more than that rests upon a party to civil proceedings.

The onus of proving unsoundness of mind is on the accused, hence the plea of insanity should be taken by the accused or by his lawyer or his members of the family or previous history of insanity is revealed, it’s the duty of an honest investigating officer to subject the accused to a medical checkup and place that evidence before the court and if this is not done, it creates a significant infirmity within the prosecution case and the advantage of doubt has got to be given to the accused. Hence, the plea of insanity should be taken during the investigation or during the trial within the lower court and not during the appeal to the higher court. One way that psychiatrists become involved in insanity cases is through their patients. This is able to necessitate the unfortunate event where a patient is involved in a criminal matter. The patient and his or her counsel opt to make his or her state of mind at the time of the alleged incident an issue and you, as the treating physician, are called to testify.

The other common way psychiatrists end up playing a role in these cases is as a consultant who is serving to gauge the individual additionally because the circumstances of the crime. In such a case, you are actually seeing the person under a court order or at the request of one of the attorneys, and it’s quite different than seeing a patient, especially when issues like confidentiality comes up.

When a defendant is found not guilty by reason of insanity it doesn’t mean he or she necessarily goes free. Commonly, states have requirements for treatment or institutionalization of the accused after such a finding. Some states require such confinement for the length of time the person would have received if convicted as a minimum, so he or she may find themselves spending longer confined than if he or she didn’t raise such a defence. Like in the other areas of the law, this also varies from state to state.

Psychiatrists are also asked to assist the court in determining whether certain mental disorders affected a person’s ability to create the intent necessary to make that person someone who is   legally culpable. The medical discipline describes that the patient’s mental status on a scale or   continuum that ranges from extremely ill to completely healthy. However, the legal language is clearly categorical in nature, either the criminal is responsible or not responsible. While a psychiatrist is concerned with medical treatment of individual patients, courts are concerned with the protection of the society from the possible dangers from these patients. Psychiatrist needs to understand that it’s not only the actual fact that the person is suffering from psychopathy but it’s the totality of the circumstances seen within the light of the evidence on record to prove that the person was also unable to understand the character of the act or wrongdoing or that it absolutely was contrary to the law is appreciated within the court of law for insanity defence. in particular that Forensic Psychiatric Informal Training and Clinical Services Providing Centres are few in number across the country. to produce fair and speedy trial, forensic psychiatry has to incline utmost importance.

It is the foremost popular weapon as a defense during this century to flee from any crime. It is almost impossible to prove the mental status of any individual at the time of the offence.It is not just concerned with the any mental insanity but with the legal insanity as defined. Mere arguments aren’t enough to determine that the accused deserves the defense, it depends upon the circumstances.

The case of insanity defense becomes more complicated as compared to others because it’s not to prove that the accused has performed the crime or not, rather it’s about the accused confessing his crime and stating that he has no idea about what he has done.
These reasons are making insanity defense a far easier and modern way for criminals to exempt from the crimes they perform intentionally.



Author: Neha .S. Menon,

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