Abolition Of Insanity

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To counter the abolition of Insanity as a defence, we must delve into the reasons behind the defence and its utility in the end goals of criminal law.
Criminal law is a mechanism to control human behaviour, which it directs using a system of punishments for deviations. It seeks to uphold certain values like life and liberty and deprives people of the same, only when they engage in conduct that goes against said values.
While imposing such sanctions, criminal law only punishes those who have a choice of conduct and yet, willingly choose a course of action that goes against established societal norms and conduct. The punishment awarded is meant to deter the person punished as well as other members of the society from following the same aberrant
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The M’Naghten Rules laid down in the House of Lords judgement form a rough guideline and subsequently, legal insanity is contingent on the cognitive powers of the accused to understand the consequences of his/her actions. It thus, diverges from the medical definition as mentally ill people may meet the minimum threshold of rationality that legally insane people cannot achieve.
The retributive theory of criminal justice follows that only who can understand the wrongfulness of their actions should be punished. Legally insane persons are excused in law as they are not regarded as morally responsible agents, analogous to children as the insane mature mind and the sane immature mind though different in nature, are equally incapable of forming rational decisions.
The defence of insanity stems from the fact that insane people are regarded to not understand the consequences of their actions and hence, cannot form the requisite mens rea or intention for their actions to be condemned a crime As per the legal maxim of actus non facit reum nisi mens sit rea, the mere act itself does not constitute guilt unless done with a guilty mind; for the same reason, legally insane people cannot be guilty of a
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This however is due to a flawed understanding of excuses, derived by equating it with causation. Causation per se is not an excuse as every action is caused. Insanity on the other hand, is rooted in the non culpability arising from lack of rationality.
In the Indian context, the Indian Penal Code of 1860 does not explicitly mention the term insanity and instead, uses ‘unsoundness of mind’. It removed terms like mental illness or disorder, which caused confusion due to the digression of legal insanity from medical insanity. In its place, it defends the accused when he/she is incapable of knowing the nature of the act or that the act is either wrong or contrary to law. It involves the narrower test of incapacity rather than lack of knowledge, which allows a person who generally possesses cognitive function but didn’t at the time of the offence, to be excused.
The operative word here being ‘at the time of doing it’ has led to allegations of misuse of the defence. However, one must realize that the same holds true for most other crimes as they bring with them the burden of proving mens rea at the time of commission of the offence, which is also established considering the past mental state of the
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