Section 84 of Indian Penal Code, 1860 – Explained!

The wild beast test in Beverley’s case in 1603, good and evil test in Lord Ferrer’s case in 1760, delusion test in Hadfield’s case in 1800 and right and wrong test in Oxford case in 1840 were propounded by the Courts. These were followed by the Mc Naughten’s case in 1843 which has a great bearing on the Indian law relating to unsoundness of mind as a defence under this section.

Mc Naughten’s Case

In 1843, the accused Mc Naughten of Scotland killed Mr. Drummond, the private secretary of the British Prime Minister Sir Robert Pel, believing under a mistake that he was killing the Prime Minister. He pleaded insanity and the House of Lords acquitted him of the murder. This generated a lot of public sentiment and debate and the pressure was so much that ultimately the House of Lords had to constitute a special committee of its own judges to finalise the law relating to insanity. Five questions were put to this committee of judges and their answers are known as Mc Naughten’s Rules. The questions and answers are as under:

Question 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, e.g., where at the time of 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 avenging some supposed grievance or injury, or of producing some supposed public benefit?

Answer 1

Assuming that Your Lordship’s 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 not with sanding the 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 Lordship to mean the law of the land.

Question 2

What are proper questions to be submitted to the jury where a person alleged to be afflicted with insane delusion respecting one or more particular subjects or persons, is discharged with commission of a crime (murder, for instance) and insanity is set up, as a defence?

Question 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?

Answers 2 and 3

As these questions appear to us to be more conveniently answered together we submit our opinion to be that the jury 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 crime, until the contrary is 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 committing the act the 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 of 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 to 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 everyone must be taken conclusively to know it, without proof that he does know it.

If the accused was conscious that the act was one that 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 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.

Question 4

If a person under an insane delusion as to existing facts commits an offence, in consequence thereof, is he thereby excused?

Answer 4

The answer must, of course, depend on the nature of 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 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 the 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.

Question 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 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.

Answer 5

We think the medical man, under the circumstances supposed, cannot in strictness, be asked his opinion in the terms above, 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 questions upon a mere 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 course be insisted on as a matter of right.

Insanity and unsoundness of mind

It is clear that section 84 of the Code is based on the Mc Naughten’s Rules. However, instead of the word ‘insanity’ the makers of the Code have preferred the expression ‘unsoundness of mind’. This has been deliberately done. ‘Insanity’ has a very limited scope whereas ‘unsoundness of mind’ covers a much wider area. Any kind of mental derangement caused by any reason whatever may be unsoundness of mind but the same may not be insanity always.

The framers of the Code wished to give a very wide scope to the unstable mind while recognising the non compos menis (not of sound mind) concept as a defence under the Indian Criminal Law. In view of the above the expression ‘unsoundness of mind’ was preferred to ‘insanity’ under this section.

Essentials of the defence:

The defence under this section requires the following elements to be established:

(i) The accused was suffering from unsoundness of mind at the time of doing the act.

(ii) He was incapable of knowing the nature of the act or that he was doing what was either wrong or contrary to law.

The section makes it clear that the accused must be of unsound mind at the time of doing the act. His state of mind before or after the commission of a crime is not important except with a view to know, if that can be known, as to whether he was of unsound mind at the time he committed the offence.

The degree or gravity of the unsoundness must be such that at that time he did not know the nature of his act, or he did not know that his act was either wrong or contrary to law. For instance, while shooting a man dead if the accused did not know, because of unsoundness of mind, that he was using a gun, he cannot be held responsible because he did not know the nature of his act.

And supposing, that while shooting the man dead he did know that he was using the gun, but because of unsoundness of mind he thought that he was being attacked by a tiger and to save himself he had to shoot at it, even then the accused is not liable because, even though he did know the nature of his act, he did not know that his act was wrong or contrary to law.

Difference between medical and legal insanity (unsoundness of mind)

Medical insanity and legal insanity (unsoundness of mind) are different from each other. The former is dependent solely on medical grounds while the latter depends on the factor as to be proved in a court of law to enable the accused to be acquitted of the charge. If there are sufficient medical grounds to hold that a person is suffering from insanity, it is a case of medical insanity.

On the other hand, legal insanity (unsoundness of mind) for the purposes of this section means that the accused must prove that at the time of commission of the crime with which he is charged, because of unsoundness of mind, he did not know the nature of his act or that he was doing what was either wrong or contrary to law. Medically a person may be certified sane or insane, as the case may be, but legally he will be held insane (of unsound mind) only if he successfully proves the requirement of the law under this section which will entitle him to be acquitted of the charge. If he fails to do so, the law presumes him sane at the time of commission of the crime by him, even though medically he may have been insane at that time.

Delusion or hallucination

In Kanbi Kurji v. State the accused believed himself to be pure blooded Suryavanshi Arjun of the Mahabharat. He had cordial relations with his family members. One day he killed his wife and the eldest son without any provocation. He then went to the Sarpanch of the village and addressing him as Bhishma Pitamaha he told him that he had killed Bhangdi (meaning his wife) and Kama (meaning his son). The court held that he was suffering from unsoundness of mind at the time of committing the murders and even though he knew the nature of his acts at the time, he did not know that his acts were wrong or contrary to law as he believed himself to be Arjun and, therefore, entitled to kill Bhangdi and Kama. He was acquitted of the charges.

The accused in dream was commanded by someone in paradise to sacrifice his own five year old son. Next morning he took his son to the mosque and killed him. It was held, that he was acting under delusion of dream at the time of the killing and even though he knew the nature of his act and also that it was contrary to law, he did not know that it was wrong since he had been commanded by someone in paradise to do the act. He was held not guilty.

Religious belief or superstition

Where the priest of a temple sacrificed a five month old female child and his defence was that he was not in his senses but was inspired, he was held guilty as he knew the nature of his act and also that his act was wrong or contrary to law. On the other hand, where a father sacrificed his son because after his birth a large amount of money had not befallen on him as he had supposedly believed, and as a protest against the injustice done to him by his deity he cut his own throat, he was held guilty as he knew the nature of his act and also that his act was wrong or contrary to law.

The court also observed that he was ambitious of obtaining worldly benefits like wealth by the sacrifice and such act could not be justified even if he may have believed that his dead son would come back to life. Where the accused killed his own son during the morning bhajans, the Supreme Court refused special leave to appeal on the ground that the accused would not be protected by section 84 of the Code.

Belief of the presence of evil spirit or ghost

Where the accused killed his wife under the belief that she was haunted by evil spirits who would leave her when she was dead, he was held guilty as he had knowledge of his act and he also knew that he was doing what was wrong or contrary to law.

Periodic epilepsy, Schizophrenia and the like

In Unniri Kannan v. State, the accused who had been suffering from periodic epilepsy since childhood attacked his defenceless mother with a billhook, wooden reaper and firewood stick causing her death. The prosecution pleaded that death had been caused because there were occasional quarrels between the accused and the deceased over the quality of the food prepared and served by the mother.

There was no attempt to escape nor was there any attempt to conceal the crime. It was held that complete absence of motive or provocation, nature and multiplicity of weapons used, duration of the attack and the maniacal fury of the attack along with the subsequent conduct of the accused proved that he was acting under an insane impulse. He was given benefit of this section.

In State v. Emerciano Lemos, A and accused  were brothers, and G was a neighbour and a distant relative. On the day of the incident when A and his wife were away,  started throwing stones at A’s house. When A’s children got frightened and came out of the house, they were also attacked.

When G came out he was also attacked with a stick and his wife after being beaten died five days later. The other persons who assembled there subsequently and the police which reached there later were also attacked. The doctors pronounced in the court that the accused was suffering from schizophrenia. This section was held to be applicable.

In Shrikant Anandrao Bhosale v. State of Maharashtra, the accused police constable allegedly hit his wife by a grinding stone causing her death. He pleaded unsoundness of mind. The prosecution relied on the anger theory. The following circumstances stood proved: (1) The appellant had a family history—his father was suffering from psychiatric illness. (2) The cause of ailment was not known—heredity plays a part. (3) The accused was being treated for unsoundness of mind for the last two years approximately— diagnosed as suffering from paranoid schizophrenia. Within a short span of six and a half months, soon after the incident, he had to be taken for treatment to the hospital twenty five times. (4) The accused was under regular treatment for the mental ailment. (5) The motive of killing the wife was weak being that she was opposing the idea of resigning from his job as constable. (6) The wife was killed during day light—the accused made no attempt to hide or run away. The Supreme Court held that the totality of circumstances seen in the light of the evidence on record prove that the accused was suffering from paranoid schizophrenia.

The unsoundness of mind before and after the incident would be a relevant fact. At the time of the incident he was under delusion and an attack of the ailment. The anger theory relied on by the prosecution could not be ruled out under schizophrenic attack. The accused had discharged his burden under section 105 of the Evidence Act so as to get the benefit of section 84 of the Code.

It could not be said that the crime was committed as a result of extreme fit of anger. A reasonable doubt could be raised that at the time of commission of the crime the accused was incapable of knowing the nature of the act by reason of unsoundness of mind. The conviction and sentence thus was liable to be set aside.

The defence of unsoundness of mind in rape cases

In State of Himachal Pradesh v. Gian Ñ hand, the prosecutrix was aged about five years at the time of the incident. The accused was a relative of the in-laws of the mother of the prosecutrix. He raped the victim. The accused pleaded the defence of unsoundness of mind when prosecuted for rape. The trial court conducted inquiry under section 329, Code of Criminal Procedure, 1973 and found that he was Fit to make his defence and accordingly his trial proceeded ahead.

The Supreme Court held that even prima facie on material available on record it cannot be said that the accused was suffering from unsoundness of mind and that too of a nature which would have rendered him incapable of knowing the nature of his act or that his act was contrary to law or wrong. Consequently, his defence under section 84 was rejected.

Relevance of prior and subsequent conduct

In Parmananda v. State, the accused killed his father and started shouting slogans like Kalimata ki jai, Dushton kî marenga, Santo kî palenga. The court held that antecedent and subsequent conduct showed the accused to be sane and he was not of unsound mind at the time of the murder. This section was held to be not applicable.

In Daya Bhai v. State where the accused stabbed his wife forty-four times and came out of the room and cried and laughed, his defence was rejected. The Supreme Court observed that to know the state of mind of the accused at the time of commission of the crime, his antecedent and subsequent conduct showing his state of mind during those times are relevant considerations. The Court held the accused guilty on the basis of these considerations.

Pleading some other defence

In the matter of Lakshmanan, is a case where the accused killed his wife in broad daylight in open courtyard by a chisel. He did not attempt to escape afterwards. It was proved that their relations were cordial; there was no misunderstanding between them; the attack was merciless and caused many injuries on the body of the deceased; such a merciless attack needed strong motives; the accused was insane about three months before the incident and had to be kept in chains; and he was not completely cured and they visited the place to offer puja at the temple for his total cure.

The High Court held that section 84 of the Code was applicable and the accused was ordered to be kept in a mental hospital for treatment and safe custody. One interesting part in the case was that the accused had made a confessional statement that he had killed his wife in grave and sudden provocation which in effect meant an admission of intentional killing.

But the Court gave the benefit of section 84 to him. This is a welcome recent trend on the part of the Courts and must be justified at least on two main grounds. First, since the primary duty of courts is to do justice between parties, they must give the benefit of a defence to an accused if circumstances of the case so warrant. Secondly, what defence is to be pleaded by an accused is generally left to be decided by his lawyer who acts on the basis of his best judgment for the benefit of his client, and if there is an honest error of judgment on his part, that should not be allowed to vitiate the rights of his client.

Compensation for illegal detention

Another recent welcome trend is the comparatively more frequent award of compensation by the court to the victim. In the famous case of Rudul Shah v. State, the petitioner was illegally detained in prison for over fourteen years after he was acquitted in a case. He was released after he filed a habeas corpus writ petition. He, however, argued that he was entitled to compensation for the wrongful detention.

The Supreme Court observed that insane persons were entitled to certain rights under the Code of Criminal Procedure with respect to governing of their trial which were not followed by the State Government in the instant case. The reply of the State was also unsatisfactory since it did not disclose the data on which the accused was held to be insane, the remedial measures to cure the accused and whether it took fourteen years to cure him. Giving Article 21 of the Constitution an extended interpretation the Supreme Court granted a sum of Rs. 30,000/- in addition to the amount of Rs. 5,000/- already paid to him.

Unsoundness caused by intoxication

Voluntary intoxication is not a defence under sections 85 and 86 of the Code. But if continuous voluntary intoxication on the part of the accused over a long period of time affects the mind of an accused to such an extent that he becomes a person of unsound mind then he is entitled to be protected under this section if he satisfies the court that because of the unsoundness of mind he did not know the nature of his act or that he was doing what was either wrong or contrary to law.

Factors proving unsoundness

Where the accused was described in the first information report as a lunatic, the witnesses corroborated the same, no motive could be proved against him, and after drowning the young girl in the pond the accused ate and slept well, and on being asked about the missing child his reply was that he had sent her to the God, and the accused was not examined medically, it was held that the accused was of unsound mind.

In Niman Sha v. State of Madhya Pradesh, the accused committed gruesome murder of two ladies without any reason by cutting their heads by an axe. There was evidence on record that earlier also he had suffered from attacks of mental disorder. After the occurrence the accused was saying that he was haunted by God and hence had cut the heads of the two ladies. The Madhya Pradesh High Court accepted the plea of insanity and directed that the accused be kept in mental hospital until cured.

Factors negativing unsoundness

Where it was proved that the accused had some kind of mental abnormality but there were other factors present like when he was asked to open the door by the witnesses he did open the door and came out with a spear in his hand, he was found sitting near the door of his house with a spear in his hand soon after the incident, and when questions were put to him at the time of investigation he gave no reply but protested when he was being taken into custody, these showed that his mind was working well and he was not of such unsound mind as not to know the nature of his act or that what he had done was wrong or contrary to law.

In Hari Singh Gond v. State of Madhya Pradesh, the Supreme Court held that the mere fact that an accused is conceited, odd irascible and his brain is not quite all right, or that the physical and mental ailments from which he suffered had rendered his intellect weak and had affected his emotions and will, or that he had committed certain unusual acts in the past or that he was liable to recurring fits of insanity at short intervals, or that he was subject to getting epileptic fits but there was nothing abnormal in his behaviour, or that his behaviour was queer, cannot be sufficient to attract application of section 84 of the Code.

Somnambulism or sleep walking

The disease of somnambulism or sleep walking, when proved, may grant protection to the accused under this section. In a case the accused who had recently delivered a child jumped into a well at night along with the child. The child died in the process. It was argued that she could not be held guilty of murder and attempt to commit suicide as she had jumped into the well while walking in her sleep. The court held that on the facts of the case somnambulism of the accused was not proved.

Eccentric behaviour

Mere eccentric behaviour like killing one’s own two and a half year old daughter by drowning is in itself not sufficient to prove this defence unless it be proved that because of unsoundness of mind the accused was incapable of knowing the nature of his act or that he was doing what was either wrong or contrary to law.

Onus of proof

The onus of proving a case is always on the prosecution and if it fails in its efforts the accused has to be discharged whether he is able to prove a defence successfully or not. But when the prosecution proves a case beyond reasonable doubt against the accused, the onus of proof lies on him to prove that because of unsoundness of mind he was incapable of knowing the nature of his act at the time of the incident or that at that time he did not know that his act was wrong or contrary to law.

The accused who was a wood cutter and his sister were in a market place when she went to a police station and complained about her brother’s insanity. On her return along with a police constable she found that her brother had suddenly killed the deceased by beheading him as if cutting a log of wood.

He tossed up the severed head a few times in the air and then bringing it near the body chopped it off in such a manner that the brain substance fell out. He then again tossed up the head. He put up no resistance at the time of his arrest. It was held that the onus of proof on the part of the accused had been sufficiently discharged.

Leprosy, insanity, paranoid schizophrenia and paranoid psychosis

When the accused was charged with the brutal murder of his wife, it was proved that for some time past he had been suffering from leprosy and insanity. The medical evidence showed that he was suffering from paranoid schizophrenia which is a form of paranoid psychosis. Acquitting the accused on the basis of this section the court directed that he be kept under medical supervision till such time when he is completely cured.

Insanity not presumed, requirements of section to be proved

Where a woman jumped into a well along with her children but was later rescued and she voluntarily explained her conduct which showed that her mental faculties were in order, it was held that she was not entitled to the benefit under this section. Where the accused murdered his wife and child, did not run away after the door was broken open, and no motive could be proved, that does not necessarily mean that he was of unsound mind at the time of commission of the crime. Where the accused attacked his wife and child causing injuries to them in protest against the frequent quarrels between him and his wife as he did not do anything to earn his living, it was held that the section did not apply.

Execution of an insane person

In Amrit Bhushan Gupta v. Union of India, the accused had killed three sleeping children by burning. He was sentenced to death. Subsequently he turned insane. Petitions were brought on his behalf before the High Court and the Supreme Court on many occasions against his execution on the ground that an insane person could not be executed. Mercy petitions were also preferred to the President of India against his execution.

But all these petitions were rejected by the court and the President and he was ultimately executed. Many legal questions were asked in relation to this matter and many legal answers were given. But the most disturbing part remains that in this civilised world of today the life of a person who turns insane subsequently, cannot be saved. Imagine the moment when he was being taken to the execution platform.

He did not know or understand as to what was being done against him. And still he is executed in the name of law. Concepts of basic human dignity and civil behaviour have been evolved but at the time of executing an insane person the practical situation seems to be altogether different.

Automatism under the English law

The expression ‘automatism’ or ‘automation’ has been used in England in recent years. The English Courts have interpreted it as involuntary movement of the body or limbs of a person. This could be an effect of illness, intoxication, somnambulism or insanity. This has been accepted as a disease of the mind.

Diminished responsibility under the English law

The concept of ‘diminished responsibility’ has been born in England with the passing of the Homicide Act, 1957. Even though Mc Naughten Rules continue to be in existence in England, a partial defence in the form of diminished responsibility has been introduced only for murder. If established, this defence enables an accused to be held guilty only of manslaughter and not murder.

According to clause (1) of section 2 of this Act where a person kills or is a party to the killing of another, he shall not be convicted of murder if he was suffering from such abnormality of mind (whether arising from a condition of arrested or retarded development of mind or any inherent causes or induced by disease or injury) as substantially impaired his mental responsibility for his acts and omissions in doing or being a party to the killing. Clause (3) of this section goes on to state that a person who but for this section would be liable, whether as principal or as accessory, to be convicted of murder shall be liable instead to be convicted of manslaughter.

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