The Bombay High Court has upheld the acquittal of a man in a murder case on grounds of ‘insanity’, and has laid down guidelines for such accused which includes providing competent legal aid and immediate medical examination.
The HC bench at Aurangabad comprising Justice T V Nalawade and AM Dhavale noted that competent advocates “equal to handling complex cases” must handle the case instead of “patronising gestures to raw entrants to the Bar.”
The bench was hearing the appeal filed by the state filed in 2002 against the acquittal of a labourer from Beed, Sheshrao Jadhav, who was found guilty of murdering his wife in 2001 but acquitted on grounds of being “insane”.
The acquittal was made on basis of an exception available under criminal law for those cases where an insanity plea is upheld. According to the defense lawyers, there was only a need to create ” reasonable doubt about mens rea (guilty mind) and he is entitled to an acquittal.”
Proof Shown Of Mental Health Treatment
During the court proceedings in HC, the father of the accused produced evidence to show the mental health treatment administered to Jadhav before the case and after it as well.
His trial had started only receiving three months of treatment after his arrest.
The HC disagreed with the trial court regarding the insanity of the accused as the police had failed to get him medically examined, but given the “previous and subsequent history” of Jadhav, it decided to give him the benefit of doubt to rule that “he was probably insane” during the time of the crime.
The ruling issued by the HC bench held that Jadhav had “committed the murder due to unsoundness of mind and his case fell in the exception under section 84 of Indian Penal Code.” Under this section “nothing is an offence” when it is done by a person of unsound mind and is “incapable, of knowing the nature of the act…”
The bench also stated that the legal aid provided to the accused must be at the state’s expense and it must “not be for name sake. It has stated that the trial court must record details as well as its opinions on legal aid lawyers when they are appointed to a case.
The HC bench further stated that when an accused has a history of insanity or when his conduct indicates unsound mind, the Police Officer arresting him must “produce him before the Medical Officer for his examination with regard to unsoundness of mind and to obtain the necessary certificate. ”
It also directed that such accused be sent to a hospital for treatment noting that a trial cannot proceed unless he is “declared mentally fit” . In case the police fails to do so , a magistrate must order such an medical examination during the first remand itself.
Legal Aid Lawyer Failed To Establish The Accused’s Conduct
Since Jadhav was alone with his wife at the time of the crime, the HC said that since there was no evidence to prove the conduct of the accused at that time, his conduct “just before or just after the incident becomes more relevant.”
The HC highlighted lacuna in the case noting that the trial court had appointed an inexperienced legal aid lawyer for Jadhav’s defence, who had no experience in handling an insanity plea. The lawyer had therefore failed to find out Jadhav’s conduct just before and after.
The bench further pointed out that the “Indigence” of an accused “must not impede deliverance of justice” adding that trial court must ensure that a criminal case not commence without proper legal assistance provided at state’s expense to an accused.