top of page

Unsound Mind and The Law

Updated: Feb 20, 2022

Written by: Vemuri Daisey Santhi

Unsound Mind and The Law

A person of unsound mind is an adult who from infirmity of mind, is not capable of managing himself nor his affairs. People who suffer from mental illness, extreme age and blindness also fall under the category of the persons of unsound mind. A person who is incapable of making his own decisions or is unable to take care of himself is known to be of unsound mind. The law provides good accommodation for such people to live knowing their mental condition and based on the evidence of their childhood life.

According to the law, only a person who has been reliably diagnosed with a mental disorder or mental illness and people who pose a danger to himself or others can be legally detained as a person with an unsound mind. People who are facing mental issues and disorders are not aware of their daily actions or others liberty of life as well. Persons of unsound mind cannot make decisions about their own health and are not able to control their own behaviour.

Nothing is offence 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 what he is doing is wrong or contrary to law.

The term unsoundness of mind has not been defined. But it has been equated by the courts to mean insanity.

Legal and Medical insanity

According to the law not all the persons who are medically insane are legally insane because amongst those who are medically insane some are able to control themselves sometimes and behave like normal people. The people who are medically insane have time to plan or think and they behave normal, they even have a normal planning mind for the crime, and even execute it even with more care. He knows the true nature of his act and knows what he is doing is wrong. Somehow, we really judge a man’s responsibility with regards to his mensrea. Only the cases where a person because of his unsound mind, does not know what he is doing is wrong, can be excused under law. The test which determines whether the person is guilty or not, is simple. The question asked is whether, because of his insanity, he is incapable of possessing mensrea. It is only when the insanity destroys the cognitive part of the mind, it is considered insanity in law. The area of reasoning and judgement is also considered. A person of unsound mind or an insane person in not punished because he does not have any guilty mind to commit the crime.

Indian law about unsound mind and mental illness

Although these concepts have been treated as synonymous at times, the law distinguishes between unsound mind and mental illness. Mental illness is a medical condition while unsound mind is a legal finding.

The Indian Contracts Act, 1872[1] is the only law in the country that defines a sound mind. According to the law, a person is of sound mind if, at the time of making a contract, he is capable of understanding it and a rational judgement as to its effects upon his interests. Thus, mental illness is neither necessary nor sufficient for a finding of unsoundness of mind. Even if any medical board finds that a person has a mental illness, it does not automatically imply that he is of unsound mind.

Clause 5 of the Mental Health Care Act, 2017[2] says the determination of a person’s mental illness shall alone not imply or be taken to mean that the person is of unsoundness mind unless he has been declared as such by a competent court. In the case of petition against Justice C.S. Karnan, before a seven-judge bench of the Supreme court, with the court concluding that the Calcutta High Court judge may not be medically fit to defend himself in the contempt proceedings, based on his press briefing and orders. In the case of Justice C. S. Karnan, the Supreme Court has ordered he should be medically examined by a board of the doctors. Irrespective of his mental health status, the Supreme Court will have satisfied itself that Justice Karnan is incapable of understanding his actions and is unable to form a rational judgement of the effects of his actions on his interests, and thus made a declaration that Justice Karnan is of unsound mind, before halting legal proceedings. Indian law allows for legal proceedings to be stayed if a person is of unsound mind. In the case of Smt.Vimlesh w/o Sri Prakash Chand vs Sri Prakash Chandsharma s/o Ram[3] the appellant is the husband. He married the respondent on 24-02-1978. They lived together for about fifteen months after which differences arose which called for separation. The husband then filed a divorce petition in 1981 seeking dissolution of the marriage on mainly three grounds, namely Desertion, Cruelty and Unsoundness of Mind. Here the trial has court granted decree for divorce on the first two counts rejecting the third count. For the above reasons the appeal fails and was dismissed. The trial court decreed the petition for divorce holding that the allegations of cruelty as envisaged under Section 13(1) (i-a)[4]of the act was proved, but about the ground that she has been incurable of unsound mind, it was found in negative against the respondent his wife. In this case, the law identifies the truth from the test of legal insanity and they provide careful judgment. Section 84 of the IPC[5] deals with the act of a person of unsound mind. Under Section 84 of the IPC, a person is exempted from criminal responsibility, if at the time of doing the act. [a] he was of unsound mind. [b] that what he was doing was either wrong or it is contrary to law. The Indian law of insanity is based on the rules of M’ Naght. Medical insanity and legal insanity of unsound mind are different from each other. Medical insanity is dependent solely on medical grounds while the latter depends on the factor as to be acquitted of the charge. Section 361 of the IPC[6] states that whoever takes or entices any minor under sixteen years of age if a male, or under eighteen years of age if a female, or any person of unsound mind, out of the keeping of the lawful guardian of such minor or person of sound mind, without the consent of such guardian, is said to kidnap such minor or person from lawful guardianship. This section deals with the words of lawful guardian in this section include any person lawfully entrusted with the care or custody of such minor or other person. This section extends to the act of any person who in good faith believes himself to be the father of an illegitimate child, or who in good faith believes himself to be entitled to lawful custody of such child unless such act is committed for an immoral or unlawful purpose.


Unsoundness of Mind has been equated by the courts to mean insanity. The insanity should be of such a nature that it destroys the cognitive faculty of the mind, to such an extent that the person is incapable of knowing the nature of his act. However, the Mc’ Naghten rules is based on the entirely obsolete and misleading conception of the nature of insanity, since insanity does not only affect the cognitive faculties but affects the whole personality of the person including both the will and the emotions. The Law Commission of India in its 42nd report after considering the desirability of introducing the test of diminished responsibility under Section 84 of the Indian Penal Code gave its own opinion in the negative due to the complications.

[1]Indian Contract Act, 1872. Contract’s act no. 09 1872, India available at: (last visited on May 03 2021) [2] Clause 5 of the Mental Health Care Act, 2017 India available at: (last visited on March 5th 2017) [3] AIR 1992 All 260 [4] Section 13 in The Hindu Marriage Act, 1955 [5] Section 84 Indian Penal Code [6] Section 361 Indian Penal Code.

9,948 views1 comment

Recent Posts

See All

1 opmerking

Sunny Sudeep
Sunny Sudeep
28 jan. 2022


bottom of page