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Pravin insanity plea won?t do

As Pravin Mahajan?s lawyer cries insanity, legal experts are of the opinion that this defence won?t sustain on various grounds.

india Updated: Apr 24, 2006 02:02 IST

As Pravin Mahajan’s lawyer cries insanity, legal experts are of the opinion that this defence won’t sustain on various grounds. “There are many cases where the defendant pleads insanity but not many are sustainable,” says defense lawyer Shrikant Shivade. And this, he says, is because in India and in other countries, the onus of proving insanity is governed by the principles of M’Naughten, laid down by the House of Lords.

According to M’Naughten, to establish a defense on grounds of insanity: It must be clearly proved that at the time of committing an act, the party accused was laboring under such a defect of reason, from disease of the mind, as to not 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 wrong.”

But according to the IPC, “nothing is an offence that 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”.

Does this rule apply to Pravin?

“The M’Naughten principles wouldn't be applicable in Pravin's case for the simple reason that the four major points — absence of motive, premeditation and secrecy and want of accomplices — are destroyed by the acts committed after and before the incident,” says lawyer Shyam Keswani.

Pravin clearly shows he realized what he'd done, because of which he surrendered. The secrecy principle isn't maintainable as “he was carrying a weapon, which shows he’d planned the shooting”.

Types of insanity

Insanity can either be legal or medical. Legal insanity states a defendant's ability to understand the trial process. People who don't understand the nature of charges or functioning of the legal system are considered unfit for trial. If mental illness has a direct effect on a given criminal act, an individual can be found legally insane. Medical insanity requires a person unable to differentiate between right and wrong at the time of the crime. This inability must be the direct result of a mental disease/defect.

“Pravin doesn’t come under either category. His statement to the police states his brother ill-treated him because of which he took the extreme step. This means he knew what he was doing, which excludes him from legal insanity. Neither is he medically insane as there are no records of his undergoing treatment for mental illness,” Shivade says.

The bail factor

In most cases, accused who plead insanity are put behind bars as they are seen as a threat to society. “Pravin's is an open and shut case. The police have material evidence who were present at the time of the crime. However, Pramod's statement would be crucial as he is the only eyewitness. He alone can tell if it is a case of misfiring or with knowledge. As of now, Pravin, by adopting the insanity defence, is like a drowning man clutching at a straw, knowing he is going to drown,” says Keswani.