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This Article is written by Ritika Vyas, Intern at Legal Vidhiya


Section 84 of the Indian Penal Code, 1860 deals with the defense of a person who is mentally ill or insane. It could be said that if the accused committed a crime and testified in a court of law that he was insane at the time of the crime then he could escape punishment. The law is open to criminals.

 Section 84 of Indian Penal Code says:-

Nothing is an offense 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.

 There are well-established principles:-

 “Actus Non-Facit Reum Nisi Mens Sit Rea,” which, in the literal sense means, an act does not make an offender liable without a guilty mind. The Intention or guilty mind (Mens Rea) of the offender is an integral part while committing a crime. The defence of insanity is a law that protects a person who is incapable of understanding the nature of the act done by him.

And  “Furiosi nulla voluntas est” which means a person with mental illness has no free will.

The unsoundness of mind should be of such an extent that it makes the offender completely incompetent in knowing the nature of the act. The factor that the person is suffering from a mental illness is by itself not sufficient to prove that he is insane. Under Indian law, the rationale of insanity as a defense is incorporated in Section 84 of the Indian Penal Code, 1860, and is based upon the “McNaughton’s Rule.” The burden of proof is always on the defendant, and it has to be proved beyond a reasonable doubt.  The Law Commission of India in its 42nd report, made an effort to reanalyze Section 84, but no modifications were made.

 Mc’ Naughten’s Rule:

According to the McNaughten rules, “The person is presumed to be sane unless the contrary is proved and the act must be followed by the defect of reason caused by the “disease of the mind” and the person was unaware of the nature and quality of the crime”.

Types Of Insanity

Temporary Insanity:

A condition in which a person is insane only occasionally or occasionally. Other temporary mental illnesses or dementia include depression, anxiety disorders, schizophrenia, eating disorders, and addictive behaviors. There are two possible effects on the prevention of temporary insanity, one guilty because he is insane and the other guilty but cannot be said to be insane.’

Permanent insanity:

A condition in which a person persists with a chronic mental illness. It can be proven from past records and incidents that prove that the person is permanently insane and cannot understand the severity of any situation.

Insanity or mental abnormality is not precisely defined in the Indian laws in fact “Unsoundness of mind” is the terminology used equivalently though not explained categorically. Through various cases, it has been inferred that there are two types of insanity – legal insanity and medical insanity among which only the prior can be used for availing the defense prescribed under Sec 84 of Indian Penal Code. Sec 84 of IPC states – “ 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 is either wrong or contrary to the law.” Conclusively it is the legal insanity or the absence of rationalizing ability which fastens the defense against the criminal liability of the defendant.

History And Evolution Of Principles

The first case involving the law of insanity was R v. Arnold (1724) when Edward Arnold tried to kill and injure Lord Onslow and tried the same. The evidence clearly showed that the defendant had a mental illness. Tracy, J. commented:

 If he were under the authority of God and could not distinguish between good and evil, and he did not know what he was doing, though he committed the greatest crime, yet he could not be guilty of any law.

As mentioned in the preceding case, a person may want to defend himself if, because of poor mental health, he is unable to distinguish between right and wrong and is unaware of the nature of the action. This test is known as the Wild Beast Test.

All offenses are made of two constituents mens rea and actus reus.In cases of availing defense of insanity, the defendant argues the absence of the mental ability or incapability to form mens rea. Prior to the trial of James Hadfield insanity and automatism (The performance of actions without conscious thought or intentions) were treated as the same concept.

Hadfield’s planning to shoot King George 3 in an attempt to save the world did not fit well in the then-defined concept of insanity. Hadfield was acquitted pertaining to his head injuries of past which led to delusion. But the breakthrough happened when unlike the past acquittals he was not discharged into society. The parliament then passed the “Criminal Lunatics Act of 1800″ which required the jury to find if the accused was insane at the time of Commission of the act. These provisions advocated the danger posed by insane individuals and that they should be institutionalized and not let scot free.

Later the trial of Daniel McNaughton lay down the thrust of the law and importance of expert evidence and developed the law globally relating to insanity.

 In 1843, in an attempt to shoot the Prime Minister, McNaughton shot his private secretary. He was then acquitted on grounds of insanity but was detained in mental hospital. Rules formed by the House of Lord in response to this situation are known as McNaughton Rules.

These rules are derived from 3 tests.

 Defect of reason – This defect should be cognitive in nature and not mere stupidity.

Disease of mind – The disease should be relevant at the time of Commission of the Act.

The test of wrongfulness of the Act committed is in the power to distinguish between right and wrong with regard to the particular act committed.

In Durham v. United States (1954) the defendant broke into a house and wanted to take the defense of insanity. In the appeal, the McNaughton test and the irresistible impulse test were declared to be obsolete. But later the two tests were again found fit to be still employed in addition to the Durham Rule (The product test)

Two main components of Durham Rule:

 1. The defendant must possess a mental disease. This judgement indicates to rely more on objective and psychological standards rather than Focusing on the defendant’s subjective cognition.

2. Only if the criminal act or behavior is caused by a mental disease then the conduct should be exempted under the circumstances.

This conduct though more dynamic and practical is currently accepted only in New Hampshire as regarded to be too broad by other jurisdictions.

Insanity As A Defence In India

Most Indian laws are inspired from British common law and so is the case here but Indian courts have gone more into the practical aspect of the issues pertaining to availing the defence of insanity.

 Suffering from mental disorders is not sufficient to prove insanity. Section 84 of IPC deals with the act of a person of unsound mind and discusses insanity and is solely based on McNaughton’s rules.

An analysis of section 84 of IPC the following essential ingredients to take the defense have been listed-

 The person must be suffering from mental illness during the Commission of the act.

In Kannakunnummal Ammed Koya v. State of Kerala (1967) it was said that to take the defense under Sec 84, the insanity of the accused has to be proven during the commission of the act, mere losing of self-control or irresistible impulse provides no defense.

Hence lack of rational thinking or guilt intent fastens no culpability on persons with mental illness.

 Distinction Between Medical Insanity And Legal Insanity

The defence of insanity is unrelated to the various psychiatric diagnosis. Mere impulsive reactions, abnormality of mind, delusion, compulsive behavior of a psychopath afford no protection under section 84 of IPC.

A person suffering from any mental illness is called medical insanity however legal insanity refers to the state of mind of the accused during the commission of crime.

Relating Cases:-

 In Jai Lal vs. Delhi Administration, the accused was a recovered patient of schizophrenia. He killed a 6-month-old child by stabbing him to death also injured a few others. He pleaded not guilty by the means of insanity but his subsequent behaviour to the crime as hiding knife, locking the door to avoid arrest, attempt to run away through back door, and trying to dispense the crowd was taken into consideration by the Hon’ble apex court which then dismissed the appeal.

Shrikant Anandrao Bhosale Vs State of Maharashtra: An appeal by Shrikant in the Supreme Court regarding the murder of his spouse under the influence of paranoid schizophrenia against the orders affirmed by both the Sessions Court and High Court was granted after it was proven that he had acquired his illness from his father. In this case, the Supreme Court held that ‘it is the totality of circumstances seen in the light of the recorded evidence’ that would prove that the offense was committed. ‘The unsoundness of mind before and after the commission of the act is a relevant fact.’

Hari Singh Gond vs. State of Madhya Pradesh, 2008: Hon’ble 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, however, mainly treated this expression as equivalent to insanity. But the term ‘insanity’ itself has no precise definition. It is a term used to describe varying degrees of mental disorders. So, every person, who is mentally diseased, is not ipso facto exempted from criminal responsibility. A distinction is to be made between legal insanity and medical insanity. A court is concerned with legal insanity, and not with medical insanity.

The insanity as defense has always been in question:-

Because many criminals take undue advantage of insanity as a defense and plead false insanity in order to get rescued from being punished during their trials. In the criminal justice system, the insanity defense is generally taken as an excuse rather being a justification of facts and the crime. Hence, it is used as a loophole in the judicial system in order to escape from the punishment during the trial.

This defense has become the easiest way to escape from punishment and now a days it is used by the same accused as well. Insanity is used as a false ground by the accused as it is very difficult to examine whether the person was of sound mind or unsound mind at the time when the crime was committed. This way the case depends upon the prudence of the judge and in one way or the other the law losses its essential purpose. The plea can be abused by sane persons. Though guaranteed as a privileged defense for the insane by the judicial system many sane people take undue advantage and abuse this privileged defense. It is therefore because of this misuse several countries like Germany, Argentina, Thailand, and many counties in England have abolished this defense. This defense is misused by criminals of sane mind who have absolute knowledge about their actions and the consequences and who can differentiate between the right and contrary to law to get acquittal by the law for the crime they commit. Criminals misuse this defense when they commit heinous crimes like rape, murder, abduction, etc., which has strict and rigorous punishments such as capital punishment.


Insanity has become a loophole for criminals. Proving insanity is not an easy task and it takes lots of time to satisfy the mind of judges that the person is suffering from unsoundness of mind, which causes delay in justice delivery system. This delay leads to abuse of the judiciary by the hand of accused. Criminals who willingly abuse the justice delivery system by manipulating the statute are well acquainted with the actions and consequences their actions follow, they have full knowledge and motive in doing what they have done such as injury, grevious hurt, or murder or rape and hence perform the act having the intention to do so. The defense of insanity gets them easy acquittal and possibly no punishment is charged on them because the condition of mind of a person can be changed on a piece of paper but predicting whether the person is sane or not is very difficult. After proving all the evidences in the court, it is upon the discretion of judge whether to pass judgment in the favour of the accused person or against him and whether he should be punished or not.


  1. R v. Arnold (1724)
  2. Durham v. United States (1954)
  3. Kannakunnummal Ammed Koya v. State of Kerala(1967) CriLJ 494
  4. Jai Lal vs. Delhi Administration1969 AIR 15, 1969 SCR(1)140
  5. Shrikant Anandrao Bhosale Vs State of Maharashtra 2003 7 SCC 748
  6. Hari Singh Gond vs. State of Madhya Pradesh, 2008 16 SCC 109mAIR 2009 SC 31
  7. www.legalseriviceindia.com
  8. www.indianlegalsolution.com
  9. www.lawbhoomi.com
  10. www.dmejournals.com
  11. www.indiankanoon.com


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