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Sane or insane: the defense of insanity under s.84

In this video, we discuss the defense of insanity under s.84 which is largely based on the M'Naghten Rules.
Hi, everyone. My name is Maitreyi Misra, and I head the work on mental health and criminal justice at Project 39A, a criminal justice program at the National Law University, Delhi. In this video, I’ll be discussing the law on the insanity defense in India, as provided in s.84 of the Indian Penal Code. The insanity defense in India is based on the M’Naughten rules, which were formulated in the 1800s in England to determine whether persons with disease of the mind should be held criminally liable for their actions. While s.84 of the IPC replaces disease of the mind with unsound mind, both the phrases have mostly been interpreted to mean mental illness.
The insanity defense in India states that if at the time of the offense, a person due to unsoundness of mind does not have the capacity to know either the nature of that act or that the act was wrong or contrary to law, such a person should not be held criminally responsible for their actions in applying the defense. Courts have drawn a distinction between medical insanity and legal insanity. Medical insanity is the presence of unsoundness of mind at the time of offense, and legal insanity is an additional requirement for the legal threshold under s.84 that needs to be satisfied. Therefore, unsoundness of mind is a necessary, but not a sufficient criterion for the defense.
But how have courts determined the presence of unsoundness of mind at the time of offense? Courts have relied on the behaviour of the accused before, during, and after the time of the offense, as well as a history of mental illness inferred through oral or documentary evidence to ascertain whether the person was of unsound mind at the time of the offense. There is another question to be answered, which is what should the consequences of such unsoundness of mind be? And it has been held that the unsoundness of mind at the time of the offense should result in the accused person’s incapacity to know the nature or consequence of their actions.
The test is one of cognition and courts have accepted material impairment of cognition, but also a complete lack of capacity to know the nature or consequence of the actions. To infer the presence or absence of the accused capacity at the time of offense, courts have developed a framework of totality of circumstances. Within this framework, courts have looked at factors such as conduct at the time of the offense, subsequent conduct motive, continued mental illness, as well as expert evidence to determine, as a result of such and soundness of mind, the person was incapable of knowing the nature or consequence of their actions. An important question to be answered here is- who is to raise and prove the defense?
And the answer is clear. It is upon the accused to raise and prove the defense of insanity. According to s.105 Of the Indian Evidence Act, the court is to presume the absence of circumstances that constitute defenses such as the insanity defense, and the accused has to prove that the case falls within the defense, and the accused has to prove the defense on a balance of probabilities or preponderance of probabilities. And this standard of proof is lower than that of beyond reasonable doubt, which is the burden to be discharged by the prosecution. On a successful defense, the accused is acquitted of the offense they are charged with.
Subsequently, the accused is to be held either in safe custody or they may be released to their friends and family. With this, I end this lecture and we will discuss the practical challenges that may come up when raising the defense in the next video. Thank you.

In this video, Ms Misra discusses the broad contours of an insanity defense in India and the different tests that Indian courts have formulated for various limbs of the defense.

Reflect on whether the Indian insanity defense is merely a sum of different tests or is there a more principled inquiry that runs through it.

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Forensic Mental Health and Criminal Justice

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