INSANITY AS A DEFENCE by Rishabh Singh at LexCliq


Laws are enacted to impose liability on individuals for the commission of acts/omissions. For the recognition of infringed responsibility towards a person specific (In personam) and at times (often in criminal justice system) towards public at par (in rem). The commission of any act when tend to overshadow the several rights individuals hold is when justice framework gets activated to reinstate the status and by implicating penal provisions. From engaging into the factual means and measures to applying ,comparatively, the law that regards, the penal provisions exist to develop a free environment for the society for reinstatement of rights at times by claims, and sometimes by penalizing the offenders.

However, there lies exceptional provisions of defence in support of the accused as well for the balance of justice. One of which the Article infra is centric over, “Insanity defence“, wherein the accused pleads not guilty given the state of mind providing not rationale enough psychological responses to understand the scenario and consequences of the acts. Also, in law “Liability to utter punishment” is defined with the requisites of “A person to be held liable for any act he commits only if he does it with wish and free will“. The article lights on the scope and restrictions for an accused to be free of liability provided the Involuntary involvement with the offence.

Insanity defence, as an exception, has lately recognised to embellish the surrounding facts majorly as Intention, will, nature of act for the purpose of understanding the cause of the act. An individual with Insanity however is protected upto an extent the madness is proved which a cumulative process handled by clinical and lawful profession together to reach to a conclusion. But the fact of medically claimed tests not being entirely irrebuttable or unbendable make the legitimacy of the tests complex erratically creating controversies. The inclinations show that the issue of insanity and responsibilities together at times are weighed depending over the Issue of fact more than the issue of Law specified of the factual intellect whereas the indictments are considered to eliminate the possibility of uncertain sensitiveness and more of observation of Conduct, nature of act etc.
Insanity defence foundationally is considered the element of criminal justice system where before the accused is held liable the facts are contemplated for the purpose of evaluating the degree of punishment to be awarded for the wrongdoing and contrasting whether even the accused was aware of the happening. At times, Legal Insanity becomes harder to be proved with sparse diversifications ,for the medical science not being entirely developed , discrepancies and possible tampering, dependency on relevant facts ( Surrounding facts), confession of act but not guilt creating complexities. In the meanwhile, To trace psychological phenomenon at the time of commission of act aptly continues to be intricate.

Insanity defence alludes to a safeguard wherein an offender accepts the commission but alleges absence of understandable nature complementary of psychological maladjustment.
In the Indian Legal System (mainly criminal justice system) “Insanity Defense” is an exemplary provision to provide accused with an opportunity of defence to be free from penal impositions. Whereas, The accused has the burden to describe, for the claim of involuntary casualty, Insanity by a “dominance of the proof” which is also similar for the civil proceedings.
The provision specific, mainly dealing with the issue in India is “Section 84 of the Indian Penal Code,1860“, which describes the defence of insanity.
Section 84 in The Indian Penal Code, 1860; “Act of a 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”.
The prevailing law confines the factor of impositions of liabilities by explaining the acts of individuals have to be wishful and voluntary with rationale of mind ( inclusive of Mens rea- Guilty mind) for further conviction, that would normally attract given the activity.

Medically, two types of Insanity are recognised based on duration and improvements impacting mind psychologically;
1) Temporary Insanity: The accused when alleges to be insane at the time of commission of act but either regains the sanity later or the situation of mind is proved to be temporary, is why the particular type intensifies the complexity to find out the eligibility of exemption aptly because the scenarios are expected to be changed given the time period and admitted present/ lapse sanity different from the time of commission of the crime for the tests to be conducted.

2) Permanent insanity: Although, going by the medical claims, Insanity is rarely permanent with least possibility of forever lasting madness which might be diminished to a raving neurotic or might be ostensibly indistinct from a typical individual’s conduct; in any case the accused is deep down debased insane. But if the Insanity is proven to be for a long period, the testifying process of the same becomes alot easier for the conclusion to be parted with about the unintentional involvement with the offence.

The closest of the latin maxims supporting the idea of unintentional and involuntary acts can be involving with the concept as:
1) Actus Non Facit Reum Nisi Mens Sit Rea ~ “An act does not make anyone guilty unless there is a criminal intent or a guilty mind“.
Clarifying the importance of intention for liability to be imposed but an individual with no understandable nature of mind cannot be supposed to have built a pre-plan for an act to be committed.
2) Furiosus nulla voluntus est ~ “A mad man has no will”.
The maxim defines that a man with insanity has no control over his activities and further the will cannot be associated with their acts logically.
3) Non compos mentis ~ “Having no control over one’s mind”.
When an individual doesn’t hold control over oneself, they’re entitled to claim the exemptions provided the unawareness of activity.


1) In the case of “Kamala Bhunia v/s West Bengal”
The accused was tried for her husband’s murder with an axis. A criminal proceeding was initiated against her. Alleged to be insane at the time of the incident, the accused made no attempt to flee, nor made any attempt to remove the incriminating weapon. Failure on the part of the prosecution to discharge initial responsibilities for the presence of men’s rea in the accused at the time of the commission of the offence followed by the success of the claim of Insanity, subsequently profit the accused via section 84 discharging her from the penal liability.
2) In a Recent (2020) appeal ,by ex army officer accused of involving in physical fight with senior official, dismissed by the Hon’ble Supreme court “Depression was discarded to be listed as Insanity u/s 84 of IPC,1860”.

There are major four tests or Insanity with different rules specifying the same factor with different contemplations being;
1) M’Naghten Rule ~
“It arose from the British courts in the mid 1800s. Under the M’Naghten Rule, the defendant must be found not guilty by reason of insanity if, due to his mental impairment, he either did not know the nature and quality of his criminal act, or, he did not know that the act was wrong at the time he committed it” . This is a cognitive test.
2) Irresistible Impulse test ~
“The Irresistible Impulse test dictates that a defendant should be found not guilty by reason of insanity if, because of a mental impairment, he was unable to control himself and avoid committing the illegal act” (Parsons v. State, 2 So. 854 -Ala. 1887). This is a volitional test.
3) Model Penal Code test ~
It says that a defendant should be found not guilty by reason of insanity if, because of a mental impairment, he was unable to either
a) “appreciate the criminality of his conduct” or to b) “conform his conduct to the requirements of law.”
The model penal code test has taken the cognitive elements from the M’Naghten Rule and the volitional elements from the Irresistible Impulse test and combined them into one larger test.
4) Durham Rule ~
“It says that a defendant must be found not guilty by reason of insanity if the crime was the product of a mental impairment or illness that the defendant had at the time”. (State v. Pike, 49 N.H. 399 -1869). The Durham Rule was created by a New Hampshire court and, to date, New Hampshire is the only state that applies this particular test. Of course, this rule is, by far, the most liberal of the four tests in terms of allowing defendants to escape liability based on a defense of insanity.

While the exemplary provision conceptualize the safeguards, there also exist minor loopholes the notorious elements use for the purpose of ditching the punishment at times;
• The sharp minded criminals in few of the cases with proper planning escaped the penal provisions, provided untraceable mental state at the time of trial;
• Not singularly the defence but also such instances create a panic in the society for their protection leading to discrimination and boycott situations against insane Individuals;
• It is almost impossible with the temporary insanity to prove the mental status of any person at the time of the commission of the offence;
• The issue to concern over becomes complex as the findings aren’t about material prepositions at the time of trial but psychological inability, as the offence is more than often admitted but the guilt is not.

The discussions supra show how important it is for the realisation of intention in a crime, for the purpose being penalizing somebody unaware of the act itself and consequences later disrupts the whole element mentioned in criminal justice system of Mens rea (Guilty mind).


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