Does insanity as under Section 84, IPC always apply to mentally ill persons?

Home Forums What does “insanity” mean under IPC? Does insanity as under Section 84, IPC always apply to mentally ill persons?

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      The words “incapacity to know the nature of the act” in Section 84 of the Indian Penal Code doesn’t necessarily mean that the provision will function as a general defence only in cases of mental illness, in fact mental illness will not always exempt a person from his criminal liability. That is to say, legal insanity and medical insanity are distinct entities. The Indian judiciary has time and time again held that the mere abnormality of mind, partial delusion, fit of rage, compulsive behaviour of a person does not fall within the ambit of Section 84 of the Indian Penal Code (IPC). Moreover, the onus to prove “unsound mind” as under the section is on the accused as provided by Section 105 of the Indian Evidence Act.
      In the case of Hari Singh Gond v State of Madhya Pradesh, the Supreme Court observed that Section 84 implicitly puts up a legal test of responsibility so as to prove insanity. Interestingly “unsoundness of mind” (or the like) is nowhere defined in the IPC. Though the courts appreciate the concept as equivalent to insanity but the term ‘insanity’ itself does not have a precise definition. The term entails a range of mental disorders of varying gravity. Since, we lack the statutory definition, we ought to rely on the judicial interpretations in order to understand what qualifies as “unsound mind” under the law. In the case of Surendra Mishra v State of Jharkhand, it was observed that every patient of mental illness cannot ipso facto escape criminal liability under Section 84, IPC. Ergo, the law is concerned with legal insanity which may not amount to medical insanity.
      In Shrikant Anandrao Bhosale v State of Maharashtra, the apex court in this case held that while considering whether an offence falls within the ambit of Section 84, circumstances have to be seen in the light of recorded evidence, the two together would prove that whether the offence was committed with the knowledge of the act’s nature or if the accused knew that he is doing what is either law, or in contravention of law. Additionally, the court stated that: “The unsoundness of the mind before and after the incident is a relevant fact.”
      Circumstances play a key role in deciding whether the case had grounds for the applicability of Section 84 as a general defence. In the case of Rattan Lal v State of Madhya Pradesh, it was well established by the court that “unsound mind” rests on the time of commission of the act and it is the circumstances before, after and during the offence that determined the applicability of the statutory provision. That is to say that in order to avail the defence of insanity the circumstances may be significant in determining the mental element during the commission of the act and it is the mental element proximate to the act that counts.

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