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Essay: M’Naghten Rule (or test) for legal insanity – comparison to law in India

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  • M'Naghten Rule (or test) for legal insanity - comparison to law in India
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Facts

M’Naghten, in January 1843, took a pistol and shot Edward Drummond who he thought to be the Prime Minister. Drummond was fatally injured and he died five days after being shot. M’Naghten was charged with the murder of Drummond but he pleaded not guilty by the defense of insanity.

At the trial many witnesses were called on the behalf of M’Naghten to prove that he was not in a sound state of mind. The medical evidence, which was brought forward, stated that M’Naghten was affected by morbid delusions and the same could also affect persons of otherwise sound mind. Any person laboring under such delusion might possess a moral perception of the differentiation between right and wrong, but the act done by them connected to their delusion maybe carried beyond power of their self control leaving them with no such perception.

Therefore, in the same way M’Naghten was not capable of exercising self control over his act because he was under delusion. Because M’Naghten’s condition was so poor, the course of delusion ended up in the murder of Drummond. When the evidence was brought before the Court about the condition of M’Naghten, it stated that a man may go on for years quietly but when he is under delusion’s influence, he has the potential to break down into extravagant and violent paroxysm.

In relation to the charge against M’Naghten, Lord Chief Justice Tindal stated that “the question to be determined is, whether at the time the act in question was committed, the prisoner had or had not the use of his understanding, so as to know that he was doing a wrong or wicked act. If the jurors should be of opinion that the prisoner was not sensible, at the time he committed it, that he was violating the laws both of God and man, then he would be entitled to a verdict in his favour: but if, on the contrary, they were of opinion that when he committed the act he was in a sound state of mind, then their verdict must be against him.”

M’Naghten was found not guilty.

Following this a panel of Judges attended the House of Lords and had a series of hypothetical questions on the topic of insanity put before them.

Issue

The hypothetical questions about insanity the judges had to address were as follows:

  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: as, for instance, where at the time of the 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 revenging some supposed grievance or injury, or of producing some supposed public benefit?
  2. What are the proper questions to be submitted to the jury, when a person alleged to be afflicted with insane delusion respecting one or more particular subjects or persons, is charged with the commission of a crime (murder, for example), and insanity is set up as a defence?
  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?
  4. If a person under an insane delusion as to existing facts, commits an offence in consequence thereof, is he thereby excused?
  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 all the 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?

Held

In response to these questions the Judges formulated the M’Naghten Rules (1843) 4 St.Tr.(N.S.) 847. These provide the legal definition of insanity. They provide that a defendant wishing to rely on the defence of insanity must show that:

1. They laboured under a defect of reason

2. Caused by a disease of the mind; so that either

3. He did not know the nature and quality of his acts, or that he did not know what he was doing was wrong.

MCNAGHTEN’S RULE

Criminal defendants who are found to be legally insane cannot be convicted of charges arising from that particular mental defect or disability. Courts use one of several legal tests to determine whether a defendant actually is legally insane, depending on the jurisdiction. They include the Model Penal Code Test; the Durham Rule; the Irresistible Impulse Test; and the M’Naghten Rule.

The M’Naghten Rule (or test) focuses on whether a criminal defendant knew the nature of the crime or understood right from wrong at the time it was committed. The defendant must meet one of the two distinct criteria. Some courts differ as to whether the “wrong” in question refers to moral or legal wrong (or both). Additionally, some states have eliminated the first part of the test in which a defendant is ruled legally insane for not fully understanding what he or she has done.

The rule, established by the English House of Lords in the mid-19th Century, states:

“Every man is to be presumed to be sane, and … that to establish a defense on the ground of insanity, it must be clearly proved that, at the time of the committing of the act, the party accused was laboring under such a defect of reason, from disease of mind, and 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.”

CRITICISM OF THE RULE

This particular test for legal insanity has been challenged for a number of reasons. Some have argued that defendants meeting the legal definition of insanity do always meet the medical criteria for insanity, but are sentenced to mandatory medical care anyway. Another criticism is that it fails to distinguish between defendants posing a public danger and those who do not, or between temporary mental issues and lifelong conditions.

Additionally, some have argued that this rule makes it too easy for a defendant with a severe mental disorder to escape responsibility for any crimes, regardless of how big a role the disorder played in the incident.

POSITION IN INDIA

The accused is not protected if he knows at the time of doing an act that what he was doing was wrong even though he did not know that it was contrary to law. Sec 84 of Indian Penal Code contains a basic principle of the criminal jurisprudence that is “actus non facet reum nisi mens sit rea” which means that the act itself does not make a person guilty unless and until the intention were so. Therefore, in order to constitute an offence, the act must be accompanied by the intention to commit that act so the section imposes no criminal liability upon insane person as they can posses no rational thinking or necessary ill will or mens rea. .Section 84 in substance is similar as the M’Naghten mles because there is very little distinction between section 84 and answers 2 and 3 of the M’Naghten rules. The answers to there questions are:

“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 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 or disease of mind as not to know the nature and the quality of the act he was doing”.

Thus, the distinction in Section 84 and answers 2 and 3 or the M’Naghten rule is very minor. The M’Naghten rules provide the terms “nature and quality” of the act whereas Section 84 does not provide the terms “Quality”. Likewise, the term “Contrary to Law” used in Section-84 is not present in the M’Naghten rules.

In RV Codere,26 the court of criminal appeal held that there is no distinction between

the two terms “nature and quality” as both refer to the physical character of the act. The similar view was adopted by the Indian Supreme Court in ‘Amrit Bhushan’ case27 one more difference has also been found to exist between M’Naghten rules and Section 84 of Indian Penal code. That is in M’Naghten Rules Word ‘Insanity’ of accused is defined and explained. According to Stephen it is equivalent to unsoundness of mind, which is explained in Section 84 of Indian Penal code.

M’Naghten rules refer to “disease of mind” while the Indian Penal code in its Section-84 uses the expression “unsoundness of mind.” This appears to cover not only any form of insanity or mental disease, but also any form of deficiency, like idiocy, imbecility and even feeble mindedness. It is apparent that Section 84 of the Indian Penal code has been drafted in the light of the answers of M’Naghten case. However, instead of the word “insanity”, the framers of the Indian Penal Code have preferred the term “unsoundness of mind” because ‘insanity’ has a very confined scope whereas “unsoundness of mind” is more comprehensive term. Any kind of mental derangement, caused by any reason whatever maybe, is unsoundness of mind but the same may not be insanity always.

Majority of the High Courts in India have interpreted Section 84 of the Indian Penal Code to use the “right and wrong” test propounded in M’Naghten case in England. Allahabad High Court in Pancha V. Emperor29held that section 84 of Indian Penal Code has borrowed the definition of unsoundness of mind which is recognised as a good excuse from the M’Naghten rules. Assam High Court in State V. Kartik Chandra30 held that this enunciation of the law of England is the basis of

Section 84 of the IPC and is embodied in it.

Goa High Court in State V. Emerciano Lemos37 stated that Section 84 of The Indian Penal Code prescribes the legal test of responsibility in case of alleged unsoundness of mind. It is by this test, that the criminality of the act is to be ascertained. This section in substance is same as M’Naghten rules. The above discussed cases amply demonstrate that M’Naghten rules are fundamental source of Section 84 Indian Penal Code and Sec.84 contains similar provisions as provided in M’Naghten rule except some minor variations.

DEFENCE OF INSANITY

Section 84 of the Indian Penal Code lays down the law relating to insanity. It runs, as “Nothing is an offence which is done by a person who, at the time of doing it, by reason of unsoundness of mind, is capable of knowing the nature of his act, or that he is doing what is either wrong or contrary to law.”

The meaning of insanity includes both mental derangement and imbecility. When it comes to criminal responsibility, insanity can be used as a defense. So basically an insane person is the one who is not of a sound mind is non compos mentis which means that he has no clue about the nature of the act done by him. He cannot differentiate between wrong and right and he doesn’t know that his act is contrary to law.

Section 84, which deals with the defense of insanity, deals with a deficiency of will because of poor intellect, and it lays down the legal taste of responsibility in the cases of alleged unsoundness of mind. When an accused is in such a state of mind arising from the disease that he is totally incapable of deciding between the right and wrong, then only inanity can be a defense.

Test of Insanity in Law:

Unsoundness of mind non-compos mentis covers a wide range and is synonymous with insanity, lunacy, madness, mental derangement, mental disorder and mental aberration or alienation. The insane persons may be divided into four kinds: — (i) a lunatic; (ii) an idiot; (iii) one non compos mentis by sickness, or (iv) by drink.

A lunatic and an idiot, may be permanently so, or they may be subject to only temporary and occasional fits of malady. A person suffering from a total alienation of the mind is called ‘insane’ or ‘mad’, the term ‘lunatic’ being reserved for one whose disorder is intermittent with lucid intervals.

An idiot is one who is of non-sane memory from his birth of perpetual infirmity, without lucid intervals. A person made non compos mentis by illness is excused in criminal cases for such acts as are committed while under the influence of his disorder.

‘Unsoundness of mind’ naturally impairs the cognitive faculties of the mind and exempts a person from criminal responsibility. ‘Whether a person, who, under an insane delusion as to the existing facts, commits an offence in consequence thereof is, therefore, to be excused, depends upon the nature of the delusion.

If he is labouring under a partial delusion, and it is not in other respects insane he must be considered in the same situation as to the responsibility as if the facts, with respect to which the delusion exists, were real.

If a person afflicted with insane delusion, in respect of one or more particular subjects or persons, commits a crime, knowing that he was acting contrary to law, but 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.

Section 84 lays down the legal test of responsibility in cases of alleged unsoundness of mind, and it is by that test, as distinguished from medical test, that the criminality of an act is to be determined.

The mere fact that on former occasions he had been occasionally subject to insane delusions or had suffered from derangement of mind and subsequently he had behaved like a mentally deficient person is per se insignificant to bring his case within the exemption.

The antecedent and subsequent conduct of the man is relevant only to show what the state of his mind was at the time when the act was committed. In other words, so far as Section 84 is concerned, the Court is only concerned with the state of mind of the accused at the time of the act.

It is clear that it is only that unsoundness of mind which materially impairs the cognitive faculties of the mind that can form a ground for exemption from criminal responsibility. The nature and the extent of the unsoundness of mind required must reach that stage as would make the offender incapable of knowing the nature of his act or that he is doing what is either wrong or contrary to law.

In Madhukar G. Nigade v. State of Maharashtra, the High Court of Bombay held that in order to get the benefit of Section 84 of the Indian Penal Code, it has to be brought on record that at the time when the said offence was committed, the accused was mentally not fit to understand the consequences of his action and was of unsound mind at that time.

Legal and Medical Insanity:

The difficulty in dealing with the subject of insanity has been felt by the jurists for want of medical knowledge and the controversy between the medical and the legal profession of the subject. Medical men say that the insane should be free from legal punishment as the nature of the disease is most obscure and the symptoms vary.

They thought of law as a rule of barbarism and crime as a disease. They also misunderstood of authority of the judge-made law on which the law relating to insanity is based. The legal insanity is different from the medical insanity.

In a case of legal insanity it is to be proved that the insanity is of a degree that, because of it, the man is incapable of knowing the nature of the act or what he is doing is either wrong or contrary to law. In other words, his cognitive faculties are such that he does not know what he has done or what will follow from his act.

Therefore, there can be no legal insanity unless the cognitive faculty of the mind is destroyed as result of unsoundness of mind to such an extent as to render the accused incapable of knowing the nature of the act that what he was doing was wrong or contrary to law.

The capacity to know a thing is quite different from what a person knows. The former is potentiality while the latter is a result of it. If a person possesses the former, he cannot be protected in law, whatever might be the result of his potentiality. In other words, what is protected is an inherent or organic incapacity, and not a wrong or erroneous belief which might be the result of a perverted potentiality.

A person might believe so many things. His beliefs can never protect him once it is found that he possessed the capacity to distinguish between right and wrong. If his potentialities lead him to a wrong conclusion, he takes the risk and the law will hold him responsible for the deed which emanated from him.

What the law protects is the case of a man in whom the guiding light that enables a man to distinguish between right and wrong and between legality and illegality is completely extinguished. Where such right is found to be still flickering, a man cannot be heard to plead that he should be protected because he was misled by his own misguided intention or by any fancied delusion which had been haunting him, and which he mistook to be a reality.

Our beliefs are primarily the offspring of the faculty of institution. On the other hand, the content of our knowledge and our realisation of its nature is born out of the faculties of cognition and reason.

The Courts are concerned with the legal and not with the medical view of the question. A man may be suffering from some form of insanity in the sense in which the term is used by the medical men, but may not be suffering from the unsoundness of mind as is described in Section 84.

If the facts of a particular case show that the accused knew that he had done something wrong it did not matter how though he might be insane from the medical point of view he could not be exonerated under Section 84.

Test:

There are various degrees of insanity known to medical men or psychiatrists; but law does not recognise all kinds of insanity. Legal insanity as contemplated by Section 84 is that unsoundness of mind, in which a person completely loses his cognitive faculties and is incapable of knowing the nature of his act or that what he was doing was either wrong or contrary to law.

The facts were that after injuring a person with an axe, the accused wanted to assault another person who snatched away the axe from the accused. The accused then fled away. This conduct of the accused rules out that he did not know the nature of the act; on the contrary it is shown that he apprehended that those present would catch and punish him. In the circumstances, the plea of insanity fails.1

The test for exemption from conviction and punishment on the ground of insanity is the legal test laid down in this section and not the medical test of insanity. On an analysis of Section 84, one gets three classes of legal insanity: —

(1) A person is incapable of knowing the nature of the act, i.e., the physical acts he is doing.

(2) A person is incapable of knowing that he is doing wrong.

(3) A person is incapable of knowing that what he is doing is contrary to law.

The first one refers to the offender’s consciousness of the bearing of his act on others, on those who are affected by it, the second and the third to his consciousness of its relation to himself.

The word “wrong”, in the section means moral wrong, and no legal wrong, because if, the word “wrong” is interpreted as meaning “contrary to law”, those words being already in this section, the word “wrong” becomes redundant.

The mere fact that the accused was feeling giddy at the time, or that he was not feeling well for the last one month or that he was running after village children or cattle does not establish that he was non compos mentis or of unsound mind and required exemption from penal liability.

In Kamala Bhunia v. State of West Bengal, the Calcutta High Court has held that to extend benefit of Section 84 of the Indian Penal Code the Court must be satisfied that at the time of commission of the offence the accused was suffering from mental illness or was in such a state of insanity that the accused was not capable of understanding the consequence of wrongful act done by her/him.

The object of the legal test, as distinguished from the medical test is to determine the criminality of an act to ascertain how far a guilty intent of knowledge can be attributed to a person of unsound mind. Section 84, in substance, is the same as the McNaughtett Rules, which in spite of long passage of time are still regarded as the authoritative statement of the law as to criminal responsibility.

Although no hard and fast rule can be laid down and the conclusion would vary according to the facts and circumstances of each case, certain broad test based on objective standards are generally looked into by Courts. These are antecedent and subsequent conduct of the person accused of the offence.

Though such conducts is not per se enough, but is relevant only or show what the state of mind of the accused was at the time of the commission of the act. Some indication of the precise state of the offender’s mind at the time of the commission of the act is often furnished by the words of the offender used while committing the act or immediately before or after the commission.

Speaking generally, the pattern of the crime, the circumstances under which it was committed, the manner and method of the execution, and the behaviour of the offender before or after the commission of the crime furnish some of the important clues to ascertain whether the accused had no cognitive faculty to know the nature of the act or that what he was doing was either wrong or contrary to law.

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