20 Jun 2010

Schizophrenia and the law relating to Insanity

In a recently reported decision the Delhi High Court has revisited the law relating to the defense of insanity under criminal law and the status of a schizophrenic patient in this regard. Referring to the time-tested McNaughten test (as propounded by the House of Lords in R. v. Daniel Mc Naughten) on the law of insanity and the medico-legal position of a person suffering from schizophrenic, a Division Bench of the High Court declared that it was essential for the accused to have been suffering from insanity at the time when crime was committed and a general averment as to the patient being insane was not sufficient. 

The Division Bench of the High Court examined the position of law in the following terms;

26. We are noticing that whenever a defence of insanity is set up, members of the legal fraternity remain satisfied by attempting to prove that the accused was schizophrenic. Is that enough?
27. The defence of insanity is recognized in India by virtue of Section 84 of the Indian Penal Code which reads as under:-
“Sec.84: 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.”
28. A bare reading of Section 84 IPC reveals that the mental status of the accused has to be considered at the time of the doing of the act complained of. Thus, it would be useless evidence to simply prove that the accused suffered from schizophrenia or any other psychiatric or psychological disorder.
29. The second facet which emerges from a bare reading of Section 84 IPC is the proof of the fact that by reason of unsoundness of mind, at the time of commission of the offending act, the offender was either incapable of knowing the nature of the act or was incapable of knowing that what he is doing is wrong or contrary to law.
30. It is apparent that there is a distinction between medical insanity and legal insanity. From a doctor‟s point of view a patient of schizophrenia would be treated as a mentally sick person. But for the purposes of Section 84 IPC such a person would escape being classified as a normal person and to be treated insane vis-à-vis the offence only on proof of the cognitive faculties being impaired at the relevant time i.e. at the time the crime was committed.
31. Now, cognitive faculties can be impaired due to a psychological reason or an imbalance directly affecting the brain. In the latter situation would be idiots and lunatics. If proved to be an idiot or a lunatic, where the disability of the brain is permanent, no further proof of the mental condition at the relevant time would be needed to discharge the onus which law places on the defence i.e. it is for the defence to prove the plea of insanity, for the reason an idiot or a lunatic is permanently mentally disabled and 24 hours a day, for the entire 365 days of the year would not be in a position to know the nature of his act as also the quality thereof.
32. The problem arises where insanity is taken up as a defence and sought to be proved not with reference to the accused being a lunatic or an idiot but suffering from a psychiatric or a psychological disability.
33. To put it in laymen's language, idiocy and/or lunacy may be called permanent insanity and a psychiatric or psychological disability which may be called temporary insanity.
34. Historical evolution of the law pertaining to the defence of insanity at a criminal trial is usually traced by the legal fraternity to the celebrated decision reported as 1843 Revised Reports, Vol.59: 8ER 718 (HL) R vs. Daniel Mc Naughten. The defence of insanity in said case was set up on the evidence that the accused suffered from an insane delusion that the Prime Minister Sir Robert Peel had injured him. Mistaking the deceased for Sir Robert Peel, the accused killed him by shooting him. The jury returned the verdict of not guilty on the ground of insanity. The question of law pertaining to insanity was referred to the House of Lords. Five questions were posed to the House of Lords, as enunciated below:-
1. What is the law respecting alleged crimes committed by persons afflicted with insane delusion, in respect of one or more particular subjects or persons: as, for instance, where at the time of the commission of the alleged crime, the accused knew he was acting contrary to law, but did the act complained of with a view, under the influence of insane delusion, of redressing or revenging some supposed grievance or injury, or of producing some supposed public benefit?
2. What are the proper questions to be submitted to the jury, when a person alleged to be afflicted with insane delusion respecting one or more particular subjects or persons, is charged with the commission of a crime (murder, for example), and insanity is set up as a defence?
3. In what terms ought the question. to be left to the jury, as to the prisoner's state of mind at the time when the act was committed?
4. If a person under an insane delusion, as to existing facts, commits an offence in consequence thereof, is he thereby excused?
5. Can a medical man conversant with the disease of insanity, who never saw the prisoner previously to the trial, but who was present during the whole trial and the examination of all the witnesses, be asked his opinion as to the state of the prisoner's mind at the time of the commission of the alleged crime, or his opinion whether the prisoner was conscious at the time of doing the act, that he was acting. contrary to law, or whether he was labouring under any and what delusion at the time
35. Lord Chief Justice Tindal expressed opinion upon the above said terms of reference as follows:-
Opinion upon Question 1 “..In answer to which question, assuming that your Lordships' inquiries are confined to those persons who, labour under such partial delusions only, and are not in other respects insane, we are of opinion that, notwithstanding the party accused did the act complained of with a view, under the influence of insane delusion, of redressing or revenging some supposed grievance or injury, or of producing some public benefit, he is nevertheless punishable according to the nature of the crime committed, if he knew at the time of committing such crime that he was acting contrary to law; by which expression we understand your Lordships to mean the law of the land.…”

Opinion upon Question 2 and 3 "…These two questions appear to us to be more conveniently answered together, we have to submit our opinion to be, that the jurors ought to be told in all cases that every man is to be presumed to be sane, and to possess a sufficient degree of reason to be responsible for his crimes,until the contrary be proved to their satisfaction; and that to establish a defence on the ground of insanity, it must be clearly proved that, at the time of the committing of the act, the party accused was labouring under such a defect of reason, from disease of the mind, as not to know the nature and quality of the act he was doing; or, if he did know it, that he did not know he was doing what was wrong. The mode of putting the latter part of the question to the jury on these occasions has generally been, whether the accused at the time of doing the act knew the difference between, right and wrong: which mode, though rarely; if ever, leading to any mistake with the jury, is not, as we conceive, so accurate when put. generally and in the abstract, as when put with reference to the party's knowledge of right and wrong in respect to the very act with which he is charged. If the question were to be put as to the knowledge of the accused solely and exclusively with reference to the law of the land, it might tend to confound the jury, by inducing them to believe that an actual knowledge of the law of the land was essential in order to lead to a conviction; whereas the law is administered upon the principle that every one must be taken conclusively to know it, without proof that he does know it. If the accused was conscious that the act was one which he ought not to do, and if that act was at the same time contrary to the law of the land, he is punishable; and the usual course therefore has been to leave the question to the jury, whether the party accused had a sufficient degree of reason to know that he was doing an act that was wrong: and this course we think is correct, accompanied with such observations and explanations as the circumstances of each particular case may require.…”

Opinion on Question 4 "...The answer must of course depend on the nature of the delusion: but, making the same assumption as we did before, namely, that he labours under such partial delusion only, and is not in other respects insane, we think he must be considered in the same situation as to responsibility as if the facts with respect to which the delusion exists were real. For example, if under the influence of his delusion he supposes another man to be in the act of attempting to take away his life, and he kills that man, as he supposes, in self-defence, he would be exempt from punishment. If his delusion was that the deceased had inflicted a serious injury to his character and fortune, and he killed him in revenge for such supposed injury, he would be liable to punishment…” Opinion on Question5 “..In answer thereto, we state to your Lordships, that we think the medical man, under the circumstances supposed, cannot in strictness be asked his opinion in the terms above stated, because each of those questions involves the determination of the truth of the facts deposed to, which it is for the jury to decide, and the questions are not mere questions upon a matter of science, in which case such evidence is admissible. But where the facts are admitted or not disputed, and the question becomes substantially one of science only, it may be convenient to allow the question to be put in that general form, though the same cannot be insisted on as a matter of right…”
36. The law afore-noted has come to be known as the McNaughten's Principles. Pithily stated, a person laboring under a delusion or a psychological or a psychiatric ailment would not be entitled to be acquitted on the ground of insanity unless it is established that at the time when the crime was committed he was suffering the delusion, psychological or psychiatric condition and was incapable of knowing the nature of his act or that he was not knowing that what he was doing was wrong or contrary to law.
37. In this connection uncontrollable or irresistible impulses have to be factored and distinction drawn with precision for the reason a person acting under an uncontrollable or irresistible impulse would not be entitled to the defence of insanity.
38. It would be virtually impossible to lead direct evidence of what was the exact mental condition of the accused at the time of the commission of the crime. Thus, law permits evidence to be led where from the trier of the facts can form an opinion regarding the mental status of the accused at the time when the crime was committed. Thus, evidence which can be led can be characterized as of „inferential insanity‟. This evidence, common sense tells us would be the immediately preceding and immediately succeeding conduct of the accused as also the contemporaneous conduct of the accused.
39. Thus, with reference to the past medical evidence or the medical history of the accused as the backdrop, the duty of the Court is to evaluate the conduct of the accused before, at the time of and soon after the crime and then return a finding of fact, whether the accused was of such unsound mind that by reason of unsoundness he was incapable of knowing the nature of the act done or incapable of knowing that the act was wrong or contrary to law.
40. Under Section 45 of the Evidence Act an opinion of an expert on a matter of science, technical or special knowledge is admissible evidence to guide the trier of the fact to understand the scientifically recognized principles with reference whereto a question of fact has to be determined. Thus, where a plea of insanity has been set up as a defence, the trier of the facts may seek the assistance of an expert but the decision cannot be delegated to the expert and has to be by the trier of the facts i.e. the Court.
41. In England the general practice adopted is to examine an expert after appraising the expert the conduct of the accused, before, at the time of or soon after the crime was committed as spoken of by the witnesses and elicit the expert opinion of the medical expert who should be required to clearly bring out the principles applied by him on basis whereof the opinion has been rendered as also to establish that the said principles have been recognized by the experts in the field. Thereafter, it is the duty of the trier of the fact to return a finding of fact pertaining to the consciousness of the accused of the bearing of the act of the accused on those affected by it.
42. Many a times if the crime is committed without a motive and in a grotesque manner, at the first blush, without applying the mind, one tends to rush to the conclusion that no sane person could do the act and hence a post haste conclusion is arrived at that the act has to be of an insane person. This is not the approach warranted in law.
43. Pertaining to motive or the lack thereof as quoted in a passage appearing at page 22 of Vol.9 of Halsbury's Laws of England, 2nd Edn.
The mere fact that an act or omission is without apparent motive is not by itself sufficient to establish insanity. But if there is other evidence of insanity, such a fact may be of importance as helping to prove insanity.
44. Thus, absence of motive in the commission of a crime is merely one out of the many factors to be taken note of while returning an opinion.
45. In the decisions reported as AIR 1964 SC 1563 Dahyabhai Chagganbhai Thakker vs. State of Gujarat and AIR 1972 SC 2443 Sheralli W. Mohammed vs. State of Maharashtra, merely because of the grotesque and diabolical nature of the crime it could not be inferred that the accused was insane; there being no other evidence of insanity for the reason there are hundreds and thousands of reasons why people do things which they ought not to do.
46. Thus, a fair trial would require that if there is available proof before the Judge that the accused was suffering from a psychiatric or psychological disorder i.e. there was a history of insanity, it is the duty of the Court to require the investigator to subject the accused to a medical examination and place the evidence before the Court as observed in the decision reported as AIR 2009 SC 97 Sidhapal Kamala Yadav vs. State of Maharashtra.
47. A fact has to be treated as proved when after considering the matters before it, the Court either believes it to exist or considers its existence so probable that a prudent man ought, under the circumstances of the particular case, to act upon the supposition that it exists.
48. Thus, the Court would have to fall back applying the test of a prudent man, with the help of expert evidence if any, after weighing the quality of the acts of the accused, soon before, at the time of or after the crime, to return a verdict as a prudent person whether the same have reached the proof of the accused being insane at the time of the commission of the crime.
49. The past is always helpful to seek guidance as to how men of prudence i.e. Judges in the past returned verdicts either way.
50. In the decision reported as 1993(1) Crimes 430 (Orissa) Raghu Pradhan v. State of Orissa the immediately previous conduct of the accused i.e. quarrelling with mother and throwing brickbats at her, along with the subsequent conduct of rushing to the police station confessing the incident and producing the knife and also the fact that the crime was committed in broad daylight was held to be a sufficient indicator of the infirm mental condition of the accused at the time of commission of the offence. In light of the past mental history of the accused in the form of medical reports by 2 doctors confirming the accused to be mentally unsound, it was held that the plea of insanity was successfully established.
51. In the decision reported as AIR 1969 SC 15 Jai Lal v. Delhi Administration despite having a medical history of insanity proved by evidence in court, the court convicted the accused based on his subsequent conduct viz. his act of concealing the weapon, bolting the door to prevent arrest and absconding thereafter as the said acts were held by the court to be a display of consciousness of the guilt.
52. In the decision reported as AIR 1960 Ker. 24 Unniri Kanan v. State the statements of relatives of accused, deposing accused to be insane, along with the facts that no attempt was made by the accused to conceal his crime or escape i.e. when the police arrived they found the accused sitting quietly by the side of the house with his hands and clothes smeared with blood and a complete absence of motive or provocation along with the manner in which the murder was committed (nature and multiplicity of weapons and duration of attack) were held to be indicative of the fact that the accused was insane.
53. In the decision reported as (1960)1 MLJ 333 In re: Parvati Anmal despite the fact that it was proved that the accused was suffering from depression, her suicidal act of jumping in the well along with her two children was held to be outside the ambit of Sec.84 as it was held that the facts show her mental consciousness towards the act. 
54. In the decision reported as AIR 2002 SC 3399 Shrikant Anandrao Bhosale Vs. State of Maharashtra there was past evidence of the accused suffering from Paranoid Schizophrenia since 1992. The conduct of the accused who killed his wife in day light and made no attempt to hide or run away from the scene of crime was held indicative of a mind not knowing the consequences of its acts.
55. In the decision reported as AIR 1968 Delhi 177 Shanti Devi Vs. The State the conduct of the accused in sitting next to the dead body of his child and crying and on seeing the people leaving the child and sitting on a cot and throwing the razor i.e. the weapon of offence under the cot was held indicative to be evidencing an unsound mind.
56. In the decision reported as AIR 1949 Cal. 182 Ashiruddin Ahmed Vs. The King the conduct of the accused who had told his maternal uncle that in a dream he was commanded by somebody in paradise to sacrifice his son and his taking the son to a mosque and killing him by thrusting a knife in the throat i.e. an act of sacrifice (kurbani) was held to be indicative of the accused acting under delusion and hence insane.
57. In the decision reported as AIR 1961 SC 998 State of Madhya Pradesh Vs. Ahmadullah, inspite of evidence of the accused being in a disturbed state of mind in the evening of the date of occurrence and having not taken food for 2 prior days was held no evidence of insanity when the crime was committed in view of evidence that the accused bore ill will towards the deceased. The manner of crime showed a mind in concert with the body. The accused took a torch in the night and stealthily scaled the wall of the house of the deceased.

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