Article of the Day.


In Indian Legal System Insanity Defense is a tool in criminal law to save an alleged from the

accountability of a crime. It is based on the assumption that at the time of the crime, the person

was suffering from a mental illness and therefore, was incapable of understanding what he/she

was doing. It is to be noted here that this is a legal concept and therefore simply suffering from a

mental disorder is not sufficient to prove insanity. The burden of proof to prove insanity is on the

alleged and he/she has to supply the court with evidence similar to that of preponderance of the

evidence as in the civil case.

This article focuses on the concept of insanity in law and how it has become a loophole in the

modern judicial system.


The insanity defense refers to a defense that a defendant can plead in a criminal trial. In an

insanity defense, the defendant admits the action, but asserts a lack of culpability based on

mental illness. The insanity defense in the court is generally taken as an excuse rather being a

justification of the facts and the crime.

In India, Section 84 of the Indian Penal Code describes the defense of insanity. Under the

provision of Section 84, the law protects an unsound minded person and provides him/her

defense from criminal liability, which is also known as the Law of Insanity. This law is based

upon the assumption that whenever an insane person commits a crime in a fit of insanity, he/she

does not have a guilty mind to understand what he/she is doing, and that the act is prohibited by

law. For these reasons, Insanity law has proven to be of great importance in understanding the

mental position of an insane person and in suitable circumstances grant them exemptions from

criminal charges.

Origin of Insanity Defense

Stephen in his Digest of Criminal Law states - "No act is a crime of the person who does it, is at

the same time when it is done prevented either by defective mental power or by any disease

affecting his mind firstly from knowing the nature and quality of the act, or secondly from

knowing that the act is wrong. "

In R. v. Arnold, 1 the defendant was tried for wounding and making an attempt on the life of

Lord Onslow. There was enough evidence of the mental derangement of the accused. In this case

Tracy, J. laid down the test as follows - " If he was under the visitation of God, and could not

distinguish between good and evil, and did not know what he did, though he committed the

greatest offence, yet he could not be guilty of any offence against any law whatsoever. "

According to this case a person can claim exemption from liability if by reason of unsoundness

of mind, he was unable to distinguish between good and evil and also did not know what he did.

This test is also known as Wild Beast Test.

Later on, in Lord Ferret's case 2 the above test of ability to distinguish between good and evil

was approved. In this case Earl Ferrers was tried before the House of Lords for the murder of his

steward, who he deliberately shot in revenge for some imaginary wrong. He pleaded insanity in

his defense.

The second test known as Insane Delusion Test was evolved in Hadfield Case. 3 Lastly in

Bowler's Case 4 the test of capacity to distinguish between the right and wrong was formulated.

These three tests were the early laws relating to Insanity Defense and laid the foundation for the

landmark Mc-Naughton Test.

The English Courts in R v. McNaughton 5 , devised the McNaughton’s Test which formed the

1 (1724) 16 St. Tr. 695.

2 (1760) 19 St. Tr. 885.

3 (1800) 27 St. Tr. 128.

4 (1812) 1 Collinson Lumacy 673.

5 (1843) 8 Eng. Rep. 718, 722.

basis of modern-day Insanity Law and is also the basis of Section 84 of the Indian Penal Code. In

this case, a man named McNaughton killed Edward Drummond mistaking him for some other

person. His state of mind was not sane and therefore the court ordered for his acquittal. But the

jury considering him insane and therefore brought in a verdict of admitting him in a Mental

Asylum. After this judgment in 1843, there was a discussion in the House of Lords, where a five-

point proposition was made. These five propositions were construed as the McNaughton’s rules.

The propositions were as follows:

1.That it is to be presumed that a convict is sane until the contrary is proven.

2.That an insane person would be liable for punishment if he/she knows at the time of the

commission of crime what he/she is doing.

3.That to establish a defense on insanity, the accused by way of his/her insanity should not be in

a position to know the nature and consequences of his/her act.

4.That the delusions to which the accused is suffering should be real.

5.The jury in English Law is responsible for deciding if someone is insane or not.

These propositions became precedent for the law concerning the defense of insanity. The rules

emphasized the observation of “understandability” of an accused in a case where he/she has done

something wrong. It is a test of knowing what is right and wrong.

Negative Aspects of Insanity Defense

It is abolished in some jurisdictions- It is important to note here that not all the courts accept

the plea of insanity in their jurisdiction. It has been abolished at some places, so if any such case

arises which is successful in convincing the jury is transferred to such a jurisdiction where this

provision is followed.

It can lead to increased trial costs - One of the most important points here is that it increases

the trail costs. To prove the insanity the defense will definitely hire a specialist to prove their

point to the court. Also, the prosecution will also do the same. In this process, a significant

amount of money would be used. And among all these only the least number of cases go

successful in taking the defense of indemnity.

It can be very difficult to prove - It is a very big challenge for the defendant to prove the plea

of insanity. Mental illness can be proved by having it checked by an expert who as per his

knowledge, test and experience gives proof of the actual mental status of the accused. Even after

that, it is upon the judges to accept or reject the defense of insanity thus produced. It does not

give any guarantee of relief or solution to the accused.

It can be misused - The defense of insanity can even be misused to escape from the acquittal or

punishment. It is very difficult to examine whether the person was of sound mind or unsound

mind at that point in time. In the end, it all depends on how the judge understands the matter and

gives his judgment.


As of now, we can concur that Insanity Defense has become a loophole for the criminals as the

most popular defense to escape from any crime. It is next to impossible to prove the mental

status of any person at the time when the crime was committed. The redundancy of Indian

Judicial System is also to be blamed here because it simply adds fuel to the fire which makes this

defense lose its stark, and all that matters are word-games. These cases are more complicated

than any other case because here an accused agrees to the commission of a crime but evades the

consequences and this raises brows of any right-minded person.

For these fundamental reasons it could safely be concluded that Insanity Defense Law has lost its

original zeal and has now become a tool for criminals to evade legal consequences. Now the

remedies available to cope up with these lacunas are the formation of more straightforward laws

and tests. The initial step towards reforms could be a mechanism to differentiate between Violent

criminals and Insane criminals, wherein the former are the real culprits. Reforms here can only

be possible when states would make stricter laws to govern such matters and it is high time now

for major reforms in these provisions.

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