“Insanity” means and includes both mental derangement and imbecility. The basis, therefore, is that such a person is not of sound mind, but is non compos mentis, (not of sound mind).

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That is to say, he does not know the nature of the act he is doing, as what is either wrong or contrary to law. Unsoundness of mind covers a wide range and is synonymous with insanity, lunacy, madness, mental derangement, mental disorder and mental aberration or alienation.

Whether they want of capacity is temporary or permanent, natural or supervening, whether it arises from disease, or exists from the time of birth, it is included in the term “Unsoundness of mind” Every man is presumed to be sane and to possess sufficient degree of reason to be responsible for his crime until the contrary is proved. Under Section 105 of the Indian Evidence Act, 1872, the proof of burden lies upon the accused.

Sec. 84. Act of a person of unsound mind:

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.


A criminal act is exempted from punishment,

(i) if the accused is a person of unsound mind;

(ii) if he, at the time of doing it, does not know the nature of the act; or

(iii) that he is doing what is either wrong or contrary to law

1. Non compos mentis (Not of Sound Mind):

There are four types of persons of unsound mind:—

(i) An idiot;

(ii) A person becomes unsound mind due to illness;

(iii) A lunatic or a madman; and

(iv) A person heavily drank or consumed any intoxicated material.

An idiot is a person, who does not possess any rational thinking capacity and completely lest his memory from his birth, without lucid intervals. A lunatic is a person affected mental disorder only at a certain periods and with lucid intervals. Between the gaps, he possesses rational thinking and normal behaviour.

A person heavily intoxicated also becomes non compos mentis during the affect of the intoxication.

2. At the time of doing the act:

This is the most important phrase in Section 84. The accused must have been insane at the time of doing the wrongful act. The burden of proof lies upon the accused. The insanity before or after the act does not become the defence of the accused.

3. Nature of the act:

Third essential and important point to note that the accused does not know the nature of the act what he is doing, or its affects, or whether it is contrary to law or contrary to morals, at the time of doing it. If he knows, Section 84 could not defend him.

English Law:

English law recognises insanity as a possible defence. In Arnold case, the Court declared that the accused was totally deprived of his understanding and memory and did not know what he was doing, nor more than an infant, a brute or a wild beast.

Mac Naughton’s case (1843) 4 St Tr (NS) 847

Brief Facts:

In 1843, Mac Naughten killed Mr. Drummond, the Private Secretary of Sir Robert Peel, and the then Prime Minister of England. Mc Naughten was under the insane delusion that Sir Peel had injured him and again was going to injure him. So one day mistaking Drummand for Sir Peel, he shot and killed him. He was tried for murder before Chief Justice Tindol.

Defence Counsel pleaded that due to insanity the accused was not able to know that he was violating laws. Medical report produced in support of proof showed that the accused was labouring under a morbid delusion which carried him away beyond the power of self control.


Mc. Naughten was acquitted on ground of insanity. This case created a sensation in England and debates were conducted, including in the House of Lords. Fifteen Law Lords formulated some principles which later become famous as “Mc. Naughten Principles of Insanity”.

1. Every man is presumed to be sane, and to possess a sufficient degree of reason to be responsible for his crimes, until the contrary be proved to the satisfaction of jury.

2. 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.

3. As to his knowledge of the wrongfulness of the act, the judges said,

“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.”

4. Where a person, under an insane delusion as to existing facts commits, an offence in consequence thereof criminality must depend on the nature of the delusion. If he labours under partial delusion only, and is not in other respects insane, he must be considered in the same situation as to responsibility as if the facts with respect to which the delusion exists were real.

5. A medical witness who has not seen the accused before trial should not be asked to give his opinion as to the state of accused’s mind.

These Rules are still received in the Courts of England, and have binding authority on the defence of insanity.

In India:

Mc Naughten’s principles have been adopted in India too. Section 84 contains the three important principles of them.

Dahyabhai Chhaganbai Thakkar vs. State of Gujarat (AIR 1964 SC 1563)

Brief Facts:

The appellant was the husband of Kalavati. They married in 1958. He did not like his wife. He was employed in Ahmadabad. Ten months before the incidence of the case, he wrote a letter to his father-in-law stating that he did not like Kalavati.

Again after some months he asked him to take away his daughter to his house. Kaiavathi’s father wrote that he would take his daughter on or before 9-4-1959. He did not come on that day.

On the night of 9-4-1959, the appellant and his wife bolted the door and slept as usual. At about 3.00 a.m., Kalavati shouted that her husband was beating, stabbing and cried to protect her.

The neighbours collected and called the accused. The accused came out. Kalavati was found dead with a number of wounds. In the trial the accused took the plea of insanity.

The Sessions Judge did not believe the evidence of insanity and convicted the accused with rigorous imprisonment for life under Sec. 302. On appeal the High Court upheld the conviction. The appellant appealed to the Supreme Court.


The Supreme Court did not believe the version of the appellant, upheld the conviction of the trial Court and dismissed the appeal.


The Supreme Court summarised the principles of law in the following succinct and felicitous language in dealing with the Doctrine of Burden of Proof in the context of the plea of insanity:

1. The prosecution must prove beyond reasonable doubt that the accused had committed the offence with the requisite mens rea; and the burden of proving always rests on the prosecution from the beginning to the end of the trial.

2. There is a rebuttable presumption that the accused was not insane, when he committed the crime, in the sense laid down by Sec. 84 I.P.C., the accused may rebut it by placing before the Court all the relevant evidence – oral, documentary or circumstantial. However, the burden of proof lies upon the accused is no higher than that rests upon a party to civil proceedings.

3. Even if the accused was not able to establish conclusively that he was insane at the time he committed the offence, the evidence placed before the Court by the accused or by prosecution may raise a reasonable doubt in the mind of the Court as regards one or more of ingredients of the offence including mens rea of the accused and in that case the Court would be entitled to acquit the accused on the ground that the general burden of proof resting on the prosecution was not discharged.

Ashiruddin Ahmed vs. State (AIR 1950 CrLJ 225)

Brief Facts: The accused Ashiruddin was commanded by someone in paradise to sacrifice his own son, aged 4 years.

Next Morning Ashiruddin took his son to a Mosque and killed him. He then went straight to his uncle but finding a Chowkidar nearby, took the uncle nearby a tank at some distance and slowly told him the story.


The Supreme Court opined that the accused was still entitled to the benefit of Sec. 84 as even though he knew the nature of the act he did not know that it was wrong.

Paras Ram vs. State of Punjab (1981) 2 SCC 508)

Brief Facts:

The accused-1 was the father of the victim boy, and other accused were his near relatives. The accused was made to believe that if he would sacrifice his son to the God, huge wealth would be accrued to him. Believing it, the accused killed the boy before the idol of the God. The accused pleaded insanity.


The Supreme Court held that the act of the accused was barbaric and inhuman, and such acts should not be encouraged in the society. Their Lordships opined that the accused intentionally did the heinous act. The accused were convicted.

Ashok Dattatraya vs. State of Maharashtra (1993 CrLJ 3450 Bom)

Brief Facts:

The accused’s mother had some money. The accused had been quarrelling with his mother for money. He threatened his mother to kill her. His sister intervened. He became annoyed and killed her with an axe, later absconded from the village for three months.

He was found doing labour work in the neighbour village. On prosecution, the accused took the plea of insanity. He produced the evidence that prior to the incidence, he suffered with mental derangement.


The Court did not accept the defence under Section 84. The Court opined that the accused was not insane at the time of the wrongful act.

Amruta vs. State of Maharashtra (1996 CrLJ 1416 (Bom.)

Brief Facts:

The accused killed his wife. Later he danced with a dog, and keeping a broken bottle on his head. The prosecution proved that the accused was never suffered mental derangement at any time either before, at the time or after the incidence. His dancing was only afterthought plan to take the plea of insanity.


The accused was convicted.

State of U.P. vs. Lakshmi (1998 SCC 336 SC)

Brief Facts:

The accused was alleged that he killed his wife during the wee hours of 8-2-1975 by inflicting blows with a phali (a spade like agricultural implement) on the head of the deceased.

She died on the spot. The accused took the plea of unsoundness of mind. The trial Court did not accept his plea, and convicted him under Section 302 I.P.C. On appeal, the High Court converted the conviction to that under Sec. 304 Part-I.


The Supreme Court gave the punishment to the accused to undergo rigorous imprisonment for a period of six years.

S.K. Nair vs. State of Punjab (SC 1997 SCC 141)

Brief Facts: The appellant S.K. Nair was charged for committing murder of Naik B. Chowdhury and causing injuries with a khukri (Nepalese dagger) to two others in the early morning of 13-8-1982.

The four were the army officials, dwelling in the same barrack. The deceased woke up at 4.45 a.m. on 13- 8-1982 and found S.K. Nair with khukri.

The deceased questioned for it and instructed the appellant to keep away khukri, else he would report the matter to the higher officials. The appellant became annoyed and retorted that he would be produced before the officials only if Chowdhury was alive by then.

Saying so, the accused started inflicting khukri blows on the person of the deceased and dealt 19 blows on different parts of his body. Joga Singh, driver and Kashyap intervened to stop the accused, but they also suffered injuries in the hand of accused.

In defence, it was contended that the accused was suffering with permanent Paranoia and was incapable of understanding what he had been doing at the time of commission of the said offence.

The defence counsel had submitted that a paranoid is not only a person of unsound mind but a paranoid suffers from special and peculiar ideas and visions which are different from other persons of unsound mind.

As a result a paranoid within moments may completely loose his normal frame of mind and be seized of special emotions thereby impelled to behave wildly and such sudden fit of emotion may also vanish within moments. Evidence was also produced that the military doctor who treated the accused recommended discharging him from service.


The Additional Sessions Judge, considering the evidence of eye-witnesses opined that words and acts of the accused demonstrating that at the time of commission of the said offences he had not completely loosen his sense of understanding and he could explain his intended action and logic. He held the accused guilty of the offences under Sections 302 and 304 IPC.

On appeal, the E High Court also confirmed the conviction. On appeal, the Supreme Court confirmed the conviction, and did not accept the defence of insanity,

While disposing the above case, the Supreme Court observed: We have given our careful consideration to the facts and circumstances of the case and evidences adduced.

We are, however, unable to accept the submission of the learned counsel that being a paranoid; the appellant must be presumed to have committed the said offences being seized of sudden impulsive fits of passion due to which temporarily he was completely incapable of understanding as to what he had been doing with what consequences.

Even if it is assumed that in the case of a paranoid, the ordinary test of lucid interval as applicable in the cases of patients with unsound mind, is not to be applied, and a paranoid is likely to be seized of sudden bouts of impulsive fits due to which temporarily he becomes completely incapable of understanding the implication of his activities, and such sudden bouts may also disappear within a very short time, in the instant case, it has been revealed from the evidence adduced that at the time of commission of the said offences, the appellant did not completely loose his sense of understanding.

When the deceased caught hold of him and told that he would be taken to the officers, retorted that the deceased could do that only if he was alive then and so saying inflicted khukri blows on him.

Such words and acts only demonstrate that at the time of commission of the offences, he could explain his intended action with logic. Hence, it is not necessary to consider the probabilities which may happen with a paranoid. In the facts of the case, it has been clearly established that the accused was not incapable of understanding the implication of his acts. Hence, no interference is called for in this appeal.”

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