Punishing a person who is not responsible for the crime is a mere violation of basic human rights and fundamental rights under the Constitution of India. In India section 84 of the Indian Penal Code talks about the “act of a person of unsound mind” which is known as the defense of insanity. A very well established maxim which states, “Actus Non Facit Reum Nisi Mens Sit Rea,” means that any offender is not liable for the act without a guilty mind. The existence of Mens Rea i.e.  Guilty mind is very essential part of any crime. Section 84 is a shield to a person who is incapable of understanding the very nature of act done by him. Mere unsoundness of mind is not enough, the unsoundness must make an offender completely incompetent in knowing the essence and consequences of crime. The pivotal moment of plea of insanity as a defense under Indian Penal Code, 1860 is driven from “McNaughten’s Rule.” The burden off proof is on the shoulders of defendant which must be proved beyond any reasonable doubts. Before “McNaughten’s Rule there were different tests which were used to declare a person legally insane such as Wild Beast Test, Insane Delusion Test, Test of Capacity. All of these test’s helped in laying down the foundation of McNaighten’s Rule.


The very first case which dealt with insanity law was R v. Arnold (1724), here in this case Mr. Edward Arnold attempted to kill Lord Onslow for which he was tried. On the stage of evidence, it was clearly shown that the accused was suffering from a mental disorder. Tracy, J. observed: “If he was under the visitation of God and could not distinguish between good and evil, and did not know what he did, though he committed the greatest offence, yet he could not be guilty of any offence against any law whatsoever.” Through this judgment the origin of “Wild Beast Test” took place where it was decided that any person can demand immunity and seek defense due to unsoundness of mind if he/ she was incapable of distinguishing between good and evil and was not aware about the nature and consequences of the act committed by him.

The second test evolved in the case of “Hadfield”. In this case it was decided by Erskine that insanity was to be determined by the fact of fixed insane delusion and that such delusion under which the defendant acted is the main reason for his crime. This test was known as the “Insane Delusion Test.”

Gradually the third test was formulated in “Bowler’s case” (1812). In this case, Le Blanc, J. stated that the jury has to decide when the accused committed the offence, whether he was capable of distinguishing right from wrong or under the control of an illusion.

McNaughten’s Rule: After several test’s the most important test which is named as the “Right and Wrong Test”

There have been several tests from time to time, like the Wild Beast Test, Insane Delusion Test, etc. But the most important is the “Right and Wrong Test” formulated in M’Naughten’s case. A committe was formulated which laid down several rules for the plea of insanity and this is known as McNaughten’s Rules-

  1. Everyone is presumed to be of sane mind unless the contrary is proved in the court of law.
  2. To claim the defense, one must be able to prove that at the time of act the accused was suffering from mental illness.
  3. At the time of act, the accused was not aware about the nature of act.
  4. The accused did not know what he was doing was wrong.


Section 84 of Indian Penal Code talks about Insanity as a defense which states that- Nothing is an offence committed by someone who is currently unable to know the nature of the act or does what is wrong or contrary to legislation due to a lack of a sound mind.

Here the framers have used the term “insanity of mind” instead the general term “insanity” which has narrowed down the scope of this dense and the following elements are established through this:

  1. The accused was in a state of unsoundness of mind at the time of the act.
  2. He was unable to know the nature of the act or do what was either wrong or contrary to the law. The term ‘wrong’ is different from the term ‘contrary to the law.’


in the era of 21st century there is a high probability that this defense can be misused and abused a strong weapon to escape from the possible charges of an offence. Many times it becomes difficult to prove that the accused was not able to understand the nature of act committed. Lawyers can use this intentionally to help the culprits. No body but the justice delivery system plays a crucial role in making the right decision for the greater good of society.

Considering this situation many countries such as Argentina, Thailand, Germany has abolished this law as the criminals were demeaning the very purpose of this law. It is very big challenge to prove insanity on the part of accused which is an essential ingredient to section 84.



Insanity as a defense has proved to be a loophole for criminals to escape from the charges. It is next to impossible to retrieve mental status of a person during the commission of crime. Remedies must be formulated to overcome these lacunas and the scope of section 84 must be widened in order to make fair and fast justice for the welfare and progress of the Nation.


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