For a criminal offence to occur, two main elements are required; 'Actus Reus'
and 'Mens Rea' i.e. 'guilty act' and 'guilty mind'. Therefore, it is crucial for
the mind to be at fault to constitute a criminal act. As the legal maxim goes; Actus non facit reum nisi mens sit rea
which literally translates to:
An act does not make a person guilty unless there is criminal intent
The concept of
insanity by defence has been in existence ever since the ancient Greek and Roman
era. Few of the first recognitions of insanity as a defence to a criminal
activity was recorded in the 1581 English legal treatise that stated:
natural fool, a madman, or a lunatic in the time of his lunacy kills someone
then they cannot be held accountable for that crime. An act committed without a
guilty mind cannot properly be called a crime, therefore a person who is of
unsound mind is incapable of committing a crime as they lack the mental capacity
to develop the required mental element. Criminal liability is excepted for such
people as they don't have the mental capability to understand the wrongful
nature of such act and are unaware of the legal consequences of their actions.
There are a number of tests that are conducted to determine the liability of
such accused persons, including various psychiatric tests. Although this defence
has many positive aspects to it such as preventing capital punishment for truly
mentally ill people who are unable to understand the gravity of the situation,
this defence is also often times misused by people to avoid punishment as many
difficulties arise when determining the mental state of the accused when
committing a crime.
Insanity pleas had a success rate of almost 17% in Indian
High Courts in the last 10 years. The primary step of safeguarding persons of
unsound mind is to determine if the accused are sane or not, that takes place in
the form of elaborate legal procedures that involves the help of various medical
professionals. This legal procedure that take place under Sections 328-339 will
be discussed in detail in this research paper.
What are the Various Tests Used to Determine a Person as Legally Insane?
According to the Code of Criminal Procedure, when a Magistrate holding an
inquiry has reason to believe that the person against whom the inquiry is being
held is of unsound mind and consequently incapable of making his defence, the
Magistrate shall inquire into the fact of such unsoundness of mind, and shall
cause such person to be examined by the civil surgeon of the district or such
other medical officer as the State Government may direct, and thereupon shall
examine such surgeon or other officer as a witness and shall reduce the
examination to writing.
In such cases, the burden of proof lies on the accused
to establish that he is suffering from 'insanity' or unsoundness of mind. In the
case of Gurjit Singh v. State of Punjab
where the accused was convicted of
offences punishable under Sec. 498A of the IPC, the court stated that the plea
of medical insanity must first be determined by recording medical
The assessment of legal insanity can be classified into sources of
testimonies, mainly being lay testimonies from the defendant and testimonies
from the psychiatrist. The McNaughton's Ruleis an important concept upon which
Section 84 of the IPC that deals with Act of a Person of Unsound Mind
on. If to define the McNaughton Rule in the simplest form, it would mean that
every man is presumed to be of sane mind and reasonable enough to be responsible
for his own crime, unless proven otherwise.
Similarly, Section 84 of the Indian
Penal Code states that Nothing is an offence which is done by a he who, at the
time of committing it, by reason of unsoundness of mind, is incapable of knowing
the nature of the act, or that he is doing what is either contrary or wrong to
The essentials for a person to be declared legally insane under Sec 84
of IPC include:
- The person must be incapable of knowing the nature of the act
- The person must be incapable of knowing if the act he/she committed is
- The person must be incapable of knowing that the act is contrary to the
Similarly, under the McNaughton Rule, the accused is considered to be insane at
the time of committing the act if they did not know right from wrong and did not
understand the moral nature of the crime they were committing. It is important
to note that mere 'medical insanity' is not enough to exempt a person from being
There is a distinct difference between medical insanity and
legal insanity; A person can be considered medically insane if they suffer from
any mental illness. On the other hand, when dealing with legal insanity, it is
essential that the person not only suffers from a mental illness but also has
losses of their reasoning power at the time of committing the crime.
Some other effective test to determine insanity include:
Wild Beast Test
This test came up in the 18thCentury in a British case of Rex v. Arnoldwhere
the accused shot and wounded a British Lord. The court held that the defendant
cannot be held accountable if they understood the crime no better than a brute,
an infant, or a wild beast. To this day courts conduct tests based on the same
principle and follow a similar logic.
Good and Evil Test
This test was originated from the case of R v. Madfieldin which the accused
was charged with treason for attempting to kill the king. The defended was
acquitted on the basis that he could not distinguish between good and evil.
This test came into prominence after a 1954 American case called Durham v.
U.S.This test can be used in addition with the McNaughton Rule and the
Irresistible Impulse Test. For this test to be valid, two essentials must be
fulfilled; firstly, the accused must possess a mental illness or infirmity.
Secondly, the criminal act must be caused by that mental illness or infirmity.
Although currently this test is only limited to New Hampshire, in the near
future courts in India could implement this case too.
Irresistible Impulse Test
The underlying concept of this test is that the defendant should not be held
accountable for a criminal act if they could not control their actions despite
knowing that the actions were wrong. Challenges occur in this test as it becomes
difficult to prove whether the accused had any control of his/her actions.
What is the Legal Procedure Involving Insanity as a Defence?
The table displayed below provides an outline of the legal procedure that takes
place in cases of the accused being suspected of insanity:
The provisions dealing with accused persons of unsound mind are under chapter 25
from Section 328 to 339 of the Code of Criminal Procedure, 1973.
Section 328: Procedure in case of accused being a lunatic
Clause 1- When an enquiry is conducted by the magistrate and he believes that
the examinee is unable to give his defence due to unsoundness of mind, then
magistrate will enquire about the unsoundness of mind of the accused by
directing a district civil surgeon or a medical officer to examine him/her. The
medical office shall be considered a witness and the examination shall be
reduced in writing.
Clause (1A): If the accused is found to be unsound mind then the he/she shall be
referred to a psychiatrist or clinical psychologist. The medical officer will
then inform the magistrate if the accused is suffering from unsoundness of mind
or mental retardation.
Clause 2: The accused may be dealt with the Magistrate in accordance with
Section 330 in pending inquiry and examination.
Clause 3: If such Magistrate is informed that the person referred to in
sub-section (1A) is a person of unsound mind, the Magistrate shall further
determine whether the unsoundness of mind renders the accused incapable of
entering defence and if the accused is found so incapable, the Magistrate shall
record a finding to that effect, and shall examine the record of evidence
produced by the prosecution and after hearing the advocate of the accused but
without questioning the accused, if he finds that no prima facie case is made
out against the accused, he shall, instead of postponing the enquiry, discharge
the accused and deal with him in the manner provided under section 330. Provided
that if prima facie case is found against the accused person then he shall
postpone the proceeding with the opinion of the psychiatrist or psychologist for
the treatment of the accused.
Clause 4: If the accused is suffering from mental retardation then he shall be
examined whether he can defend himself. If the accused is found incapable then
the Magistrate shall deal with the accused in the manner provided under Section
Section 330: deals with release of the person of unsound mind pending in trial
Sub section 1: Whenever a accused of unsound mind is found then he shall be
released whether the offence is bailable or not.Provided that the accused is
suffering from mental retardation or unsoundness of mind which does not require
in-patient treatment and there is a friend or relative who takes responsibility
of that person will not cause injury to himself or any other person.
Sub section 2: If an offence is such that where a bail cannot be given then the
Magistrate shall order such person to be kept at a place where he can get
regular psychiatric treatment and report action taken to the State Government.Provided that no order of detention shall be given to such person in
a lunatic asylum otherwise than in the accordance to the rules of the State
Government under Mental Health Act,1987.
Sub section 3- When a person is found to be under Section 328 or Section 329,
the Magistrate or the Court keeping in mind the nature of offence committed
decide whether the accused has to be released or not.Provided that the
Magistrate or Court on the opinion of medical specialist decide whether the
accused should be discharged if such release may be ordered with sufficient
security is given that the accused will not cause injury to any person or
himself.If the Court or Magistrate cannot discharge the accused then he can
transfer him to a residential place where the accused is provided with proper
care and appropriate training and education.
Section 332: Procedure of accused person appearing before Court or Magistrate
Sub section: If the Magistrate or Court finds the accused person of being
defending himself then the inquiry or the trail shall be proceeded.
Sub section 2: If the Magistrate or Court considers that the accused is being
able to make defense then they shall act according to Section 328 or Section
329. If the accused is of unsound mind and is not able to defend himself then
they shall deal the accused according to the provisions of Section 330.
Section 338: Procedure followed when a lunatic person detained is declared fit
to be released.
Sub section 1: If the accused is detained and the visitor or inspector general
certifies that the accused will not harm himself or any other person then the
State Government orders him/her to be released, to be detained in custody, and
transferred to a public lunatic asylum. For sending the accused to an asylum
there should be a commission that constitutes a judicial officer and two medical
Sub section 2- Such commission shall make a formal inquiry into the state of
mind of that person and take evidence that is necessary and shall report it to
State Government, which may order him release or detention.
Section 339- Delivery of lunatic to care of relative or friend
Sub Section 1- Whenever any relative or friend of any person detained under the
provisions of section 330 or section 335 desires that he shall be delivered to
his care and custody, the State Government may, upon the application of such
relative or friend and on his giving security to the satisfaction of such State
Government, that the person delivered shall:
- be properly taken care of and prevented from doing injury to himself or
to any other person
- be produced for the inspection of such officer, and at such times and
places, as the State Government may direct
- in the case of a person detained under sub-section (2) of section 330,
be produced when required before such Magistrate or Court,
order such person to be delivered to such relative or friend.
Sub Section 2- If the person so delivered is accused of any offence, the trial
of which has been postponed by reason of his being of unsound mind and incapable
of making his defence, and the inspecting officer referred to in clause (b) of
sub-section (1), certifies at any time to the Magistrate or Court that such
person is capable of making his defence, such Magistrate or Court shall call
upon the relative or friend to whom such accused was delivered to produce him
before the magistrate or Court, and, upon such production the magistrate or
Court shall proceed in accordance with the provisions of section 332, and the
certificate of the inspecting officer shall be receivable as evidence.
Ratan Lal v. State of Madhya Pradesh 
In this case the appellant was accused of setting fire to grass in an open land
in Nemichand and was charged under Section 435 of the IPC. After being examined
by psychiatrists, the report showed that he was suffering from lunatic
depression and psychosis, and was termed as a 'lunatic' in terms of the Indian
Lunacy Act of 1912.
The High Court found the accused guilty of the offence,
however the Supreme Court later set aside the conviction on the basis of medical
evidence and the unsound behaviour of the accused on the day of the crime.
Therefore, indicating that the accused was insane within the meaning of Section
84 of the Indian Penal Code.
Shrikant Anandrao Bhosale v. State of Maharashtra 
In this case the accused, who was a police constable, hit his wife on the head
with a stone after which she died on the way to the hospital. After
investigating, the accused was charged with murder and insanity was pleaded as a
defence. The court observed that the accused had a family history of mental
illness and that he himself was undergoing treatment for a mental illness too.
Along with supporting evidence that the motive for the murder was weak, the
Court held that the accused was not guilty as he suffered from paranoid
schizophrenia and did not understand the gravity of the crime that he committed,
therefore giving him the benefit of Section 48 of the Indian Penal Code.
The procedure dealing with accused who are of unsound mind is mandatory in
nature and must be dealt with utmost care and perfection. Experienced medical
professionals must be taken help of in determining the soundness of mind of an
accused person. It is essential to be precise in determining the sanity of a
person who is accused of a crime as incorrect reports may lead to terrible
outcomes such as persons of unsound mind facing capital punishment. It is
important to understand that a person who is suffering from insanity that
commits a crime is not a criminal. They do not deserve punishment, but instead
require medical help and the Indian legal system must have a criminal procedure
that ensures that happens.
- Code of Criminal Procedure (CrPc), s. 328(1
- Gurjit Singh v. State of PunjabICL 2019 SC 1340 : 2020 (1) JLJR 1 : JT 2019
(10) SC 601 : 2020 (1) PLJR 44
- Indian Penal Code
- Rex v. Arnold (1724) 16 How. St. Tr. 765
- R v. Madfield (1758) 97 ER 426, (1758) 1 Burr 517
- Durham v. U.S. 94 U.S. App. D.C. 228, 214 F. 2d 862 (1954
- Ratan Lal v. State of Madhya Pradesh 1971 AIR 778, 1971 SCR (3) 251
- Shrikant Anandrao Bhosale v. State of MaharashtraAIR 1959 Madhya Pradesh 203
(V 46 C 64)
Suggested Articles on Insanity:
Evolution of insanity law in India
Is Insanity As A Defence Insane?
Insanity Plea: Need For Reform
Difference Between Medical And Legal Insanity
Judicial approach on Plea of insanity in India
Insanity Defence: A Loopholes For Criminals
When Can Insanity Act As A General Defence Under I.P.C
Interpretation of Insanity As A Defence By The High Court of Rajasthan In
Past 38 Years