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Interpretation of Insanity As A Defence By The High Court of Rajasthan In Past 38 Years

The analysis seeks the identify how the Rajasthan Court has interpreted insanity in the past 38 years (1980-2018) and on what grounds can the accused be entitled to the benefit of the said defence. Along with this, the analysis also talks about the burden of proof which lies on the accused while making a plea of insanity.

The study includes both the substantive and procedural aspect of the said defence, however, the procedural aspect restricts itself to providing the basic insight in order to facilitate the understanding of the whole idea.

Insanity, that is, acts of a person of unsound mind is one of the general exceptions provided in the Chapter IV of the Indian Penal Code,1860 [hereinafter referred to as the code]. These are applied universally and can be used to make an offence a non-offence.[1] They are a part of explanation every offence which is provided in the code but the onus of proving their applicability lies on the defendant (accused).[2]

Section 84 of the Code provides for an act of a person of unsound mind.

It states that nothing shall be 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 what is either wrong or contrary to law.[3]
Actus non facit reum nisi men sit rea is a latin maxim which holds the essence of criminal liability. It states that for imposing a criminal liability on a person, there are two essentials which are required to be fulfilled, which are:

  1. Actus reus
  2. Mens rea

However, subsequent to identification of these two elements, it is pertinent to consider if any exception is applicable or not, as by the applicability of any exception, the offence would be converted into no offence.

Defence of insanity holds importance as when a person is in a state of unsoundness of mind, criminal intent, in essence, mens rea, cannot be attributed to him and therefore, criminal liability cannot be imposed on such person.

Origin of Section 84
Origin of the defence of insanity can be traced back to the ruling of the House of Lords in the case of R v Daniel Mc Naughten.

In the stated case, the defendant was charged with the murder of Edward Dummond, Private Secretary of the then Prime Minister of England. With the help of medical evidence, the defendant was able to prove that, at the time of doing the act, he was not of a sound mind. He claimed that he suffered from insane delusions and further stated that the Prime Minister was the reason for all of his problems. In the state of insane delusion mistook the deceased to be the Prime Minister and shot him. The plea raised by him was accepted and he was acquitted. Thereafter, this case laid down the rules for the defence of insanity and section 84 is created on the same lines.[4]

The general understanding of the section can be had by referring to the latin maxim furiosus nulla voluntus est which states that a person suffering from a mental disorder has no will[5] or he cannot be said to have committed a crime as he is unknown as to what he is doing
However, the basic underlying reason for providing insanity as a ground of defence is that criminal liability is imposed on the person for breaching the duty owed to him to be responsible for his conduct but if a person is not in a sound state of mind and is suffering from any sort of mental disorder, he cannot be expected to understand the consequences of his conduct and the responsibility he has towards the society and hence, cannot be held liable for such conduct.

interpretation by the high court of Rajasthan from 1980 to 2018
The first case in which the defence of insanity was accepted by the Court was the 1984 case of Ganpat v State of Rajasthan and others[6]. The case did not ponder upon the substantive aspect of the defence and heavily relied upon the evidence which included the testimonies of the prosecution witnesses in order to deduce if exception should be granted or not.

The court held that the onus of proving the applicability of the said exception lies on the accused but he is not required to lead the evidence. In order to make available a plea of insanity, he can rely upon the evidence of the prosecution.

In a year 1996 case wherein the defence of insanity was allowed, the Court looked into the substantive aspect of the exception. The learned Court mentioned that section 84 of the code accounts for legal insanity and not medical insanity. It defined legal insanity as being in a state of mind in which the person is incapable of knowing the nature of the act or what he is doing is either wrong or contrary to law. The crucial time at which it is to be established is the at the time of commission of the offence. However, the time before and after commission of the act is also relevant.[7]

Subsequent to stating the meaning and the considerations to be had while granting the benefit of the exception, the Court in the case of Vidya Devi v State of Rajasthan enumerated certain principles which still subsist and are used as the beacon before applying section 84.

The guidelines are listed as follows:

  1. Every type of insanity cannot be called legal insanity; in cases of legal insanity, the cognitive has to destroyed to the extent that the person is rendered incapable of knowing the nature if the act or that what he is doing is either wrong or contrary to law.
  2. The court shall presume the absence of such insanity[8] (also section 105[9] of the Indian Evidence Act)
  3. Onus of proving the same lies on the accused but is not as heavy as what rests on the prosecution
  4. The court shall take the decision taking into consideration the state of mind of the deceased at the time of commission of the offence.
  5. It is also relevant though not conclusive to consider the circumstances which preceded, followed or attended the act.
  6. the prosecution in discharging its burden in the face of the plea of legal insanity has merely to prove the basic fact and rely upon the normal presumption of law that everyone knows the law and the natural consequences of his act.

The court also held that out of the four types of people (an idiot, one made so by illness, a lunatic or madman and a drunkard) which are said to be non-compos mentis, a lunatic is the one who is criminally not responsible as their mental disorder is fixed and permanent.

The court further in this case elucidated upon the aspect of burden of proof by relying on the Supreme court and held that the presumption which the courts need to carry that the accused was not insane, is a rebuttable presumption and the burden of proof that lies on the accused is to prove his defence by preponderance of probability. Also, if the accused is unable to prove the defence conclusively, it is sufficient to raise a reasonable doubt in the mind of the court, and he would be entitled to acquit the accused on the ground that the burden which rested on the prosecution has not been discharged.

It was stated that in such cases it is the duty of the court to look upon the defence of the accused on the basis of the evidence produced before the court, as it is considered that the person who is of an unsound mind would not be able to defend himself adequately.[10]

These principles were further reaffirmed, and taken as the basis so as to decide whether the defence shall be granted or not, by the court in the case of State of Rajasthan v Durgalal Keer[11] and Zakir v State of Rajasthan.[12]

In the year 2018, the court was posed with the question that could pre-menstrual stress syndrome be called a state of mind so as to qualify temporary insanity and can this be used by a person to be absolved from liability in criminal cases?

By placing reliance on the various treatises, articles and the laws of the countries (example. France) where P.M.S is considered to be a state of temporary insanity, the court reached to the conclusion that it can be accepted as a defence.

The court further stated:
 Although the law has not much developed in India as to the P.M.S. being set up as a defence of insanity, yet the accused has the right to plead and probablize such defence to show that she was suffering from this syndrome at the time of commission of the act and her conduct was involuntary as she was suffering under the defect of reason or unsoundness of mind and hence she can plead this defence and substantiate with the evidence.

Procedural aspect of the said defence
It is to clarify that there is no relevant influence on the grant of defence due to the state of mind of a person at the time of the trial.

The Court in the case of Rajendra v State of Rajasthan highlighted the distinction between incapacity at the time of commission of the offence and at the time of trial. They have a gravely different effect in the sense that however, both are induced by unsoundness of mind, incapacity at the time of commission of the offence is substantive and which is used to excuse the offence whereas the latter hold a procedural aspect and leads to mere postponement of the trial under section 329 of the code.[13]

The court along with reiterating the abovementioned distinction, elaborated on the procedural aspect of this defence, that is, how it affects the procedure of the court. By the virtue of section 84 and chapter xxv of the Code of Criminal Procedure, the code provides for provisions when the accused is found to be of unsound mind and the trial of the accused comes to a halt. The code specifically mentions that only if the person is of a sound mind and is able to understand the proceedings can a trial be proceeded with. The emphasis, here, is upon the state of mind of the accused during the trial and not during the time of commission of the offence. Hence it can be said that such person’s sound mind during the trial irrelevant for the purposes of section 84.[14]

Insanity as a Ground of Defence.
Section 12 of the Hindu Marriage Act, 1955 [15] provides for voidable marriages. It mentions certain grounds upon which a marriage may be annulled by a decree of nullity. One of the grounds is marriage being in contravention to the conditions specified in clause (ii) of section 5, which provides for conditions upon which marriage may be solemnized between two Hindus.

Section 5 (ii) (b) states:
though capable of giving a valid consent has been suffering from mental disorder of such a kind or to such an extent as to be unfit for marriage and the procreation of children.

The particular conditions con notates that a person capable of giving consent can marry however when sought as a ground for annulment of marriage, [16] the court stated that in order to treat insanity as a valid ground of divorce, the unsoundness of mind of the person shall be of such a kind and extent that the other person cannot be reasonably expected to live with that person.[17]

The analysis of the judgments pronounced by the High Court of Rajasthan in the span of 38 years (1980-2018) paved a way in ascertaining how insanity is interpreted by the courts and on what grounds can the exception be granted to the accused thereby making the act punishable under section 304 of the Indian Penal Code.

As to the grounds and criteria adopted for the grant of exception, it can be concluded that it can be granted only in the cases involving legal insanity and not merely medical insanity. Also, it is essential that the accused shall be incapable of knowing the nature of the act or what he is doing he either wrong or contrary to law. By virtue of the provisions of Indian Evidence Act, the courts shall presume the absence of such circumstances.

It also helped in understanding how the burden of proof operates in such a plea. It can be concluded that in such cases the burden of proof which lies on the accused is to the extent of proving preponderance of probabilities and not to the degree, i.e. beyond reasonable doubt, which rests on the prosecution. The defence can also be granted in cases wherein the prosecution fails in proving the charge beyond reasonable doubt and there exists a doubt in mind of the court.

Also, in the year 2018, the court accepted P.M.S. to be equivalent to a state of unsound mind (temporary insanity) and the act done by her is involuntary and hence, if the accused can substantiate her claim by evidence and if the court is satisfied, the defence may be granted.
It can be concluded that the interpretation given by the High Court is highly influenced by the pronouncements of the Supreme Court. After the analysis, it can be inferred that the grounds on which the defence is granted are quite settled and there remains barely any questionable ambiguity as to the same.


  1. Versha Vahini, Ratanlal & Dhirajlal, The Indian Penal Code
  2. Shankar Narayan Badolkar v State of Maharashtra, AIR 2004 SC 1966.
  3. Section 84 Indian Penal Code, 1860.
  4. R v Daniel Mc Naughten 1843 RR 59: 8ER 718 (HL).
  5. Vidhya Devi v State of Rajasthan 2004 SCC OnLine Raj 294.
  6. Ganpat v State of Rajasthan and others
  7. Janak Raj v State of Rajasthan 2001 SCC OnLine Raj 962.
  8. Supra note 5.
  9. Indian Evidence Act, 1872.
  10. Supra note 8.
  11. State of Rajasthan v Durgalal Keer 2017 SCC OnLine Raj 4196.
  12. Zakir v State of Rajasthan 2017 SCC OnLine Raj 3772.
  13. Rajendra v State of Rajasthan 2004 SCC OnLine Raj 296.
  14. Geeg Singh v The State of Rajasthan
  15. Hindu Marriage Act, 1955
  16. Prakash Kumar Bachlaus v Smt. Chanchal @Jaya
  17. Ram Dayal v Raju Devi 1966 SCC OnLine Raj 652.

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