Can defence of insanity be claimed by a female suffering from premenstrual stress syndrome?


Premenstrual Stress Syndrome and Section 84 of the Indian Penal Code, 1860: Can defence of insanity be claimed by a female suffering from premenstrual stress syndrome?

In the matter of: Kumari Chandra V/s State of Rajasthan, D.B. Criminal Appeal No. 44/1987, High Court of Rajasthan, Date of Decision: 01.08.2018 (Coram: Goverdhan Bardhar & Mohammad Rafiq, JJ.) it was held that:

a.   Section 84 of the Indian Penal Code, 1860 states that nothing is an offence which 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 what he is doing is either wrong or contrary to law.

b.   ‘Unsoundness of mind’ has often been used as a synonym for other terms such as: insanity, lunacy, madness, mental derangement or disordered state of mind owing to which an individual loses the power of regulating his actions and conduct according to the rules of the society to which he belongs. Behaviour of the accused, antecedent, attendant and subsequent events to the incident of crime are relevant in finding the mental condition of the accused at the time of the incident. It is not every mental derangement that exempts an accused person from criminal responsibility for his acts, but it must be such which impairs the cognitive faculties of understanding the nature of his act on the victim or in relation to himself, that is, his own responsibility for it.

c.   When a plea of legal insanity is set up, the court has to consider whether at the time of commission of the offence the accused, by reason of unsoundness of mind, was incapable of knowing the nature of the act or that he was doing what was either wrong or contrary to law. The crucial point of time for ascertaining the state of mind of the accused is the time when the offence was committed. Whether the accused was in such a state of mind as to be entitled to the benefit of Section 84 of the Indian Penal Code, 1860 can only be established from the circumstances which preceded, attended and followed the crime. (See: Dahyabhai V/s State of Gujarat, AIR 1964 SC 1563)

d.   It is trite that while the burden of proof for the prosecution to establish the guilt of accused is beyond reasonable doubt, the accused has to merely probabilize his defence by preponderance of probabilities.

e.   In the matter of: Bhikari V/s State of U.P., AIR 1966 SC 1, it was held that, where plea of insanity is invoked by the accused it is for him to establish that fact. Similarly, in the matter of: Sudhakaran V/s State of Kerala, (2010) 10 SCC 582, the Hon’ble Supreme Court of India held that, for an act of a person of unsound mind the crucial point of time for ascertaining the existence of circumstances bringing the case within purview of Section 84 of the Indian Penal Code, 1860 is the time when the offence is committed. Furthermore, in the matter of: Shrikant Anandrao Bhosale V/s State of Maharashtra, (2002) 7 SCC 748, the Hon’ble Supreme Court of India while interpreting Section 105, Illustration (a) of the Indian Evidence Act, 1872 held that, nature of burden of proof on the accused to prove insanity is no higher than that which rests upon a party in civil proceedings. Lastly, in the matter of: Elavarasan V/s State (Represented by Inspector of Police), (2011) 7 SCC 110, it was observed that the burden of bringing his/her case under Section 84 of the Indian Penal Code, 1860 lies upon the person claiming benefit thereof. The standard of proof which accused has to satisfy for discharge of burden under Section 105 of the Indian Evidence Act, 1872 is not the same as is expected of prosecution. It is enough for accused to establish his defence on preponderance of probabilities, as in a civil case.

f.    Premenstrual stress syndrome is a condition seen in females before the onset of menstruation. It is reported in 70 to 90 percent of the cases, but more so it is evident in about 60 percent cases. Out of this 60 percent, the symptoms are of mild nature in about 40 percent cases, rest are severe to moderate. Premenstrual stress syndrome has two kinds of symptoms: bodily and mental. While in bodily symptoms, there may be swelling in the breasts, depression, swelling of stomach, swelling on the hands and feet, headache, loss of appetite, migraine, excessive thirst, bloating and sometimes even epilepsy, but in mental symptoms there may be irritation, depression, abnormal behaviour, tendency of suicide, tendency of violence and sometimes even tendency of causing beating to children . These mental and bodily conditions are beyond the control of women who suffer from premenstrual stress syndrome. The symptoms as regards the premenstrual stress syndrome can start to appear fifteen (15) days before the menstruation and may end on completion of the period of menstruation. In menstrual cycle, generally, such symptoms may persist for as many as thirteen (13) days.

g.   Premenstrual stress syndrome is a definite medical entity and is dealt with in almost every book on gynaecology and psychiatry. Symptoms albeit premenstrual stress syndrome can be of such intensity that it may sometimes even border on the psychotic state i.e. insanity.

h.   According to Marc P. Press (‘Premenstrual Stress Syndrome as a Defence in Criminal Cases’, Duke Law Journal, Volume – 1983:176) the symptoms as regards the premenstrual stress syndrome develop and increase in intensity from seven (7) to fourteen (14) days prior to the onset of menses and disappear rapidly thereafter. Premenstrual stress syndrome can range in severity from mild to incapacitating, in both physical and psychological sense. France recognises premenstrual stress syndrome as a form of legal insanity.

i.    The Hon’ble Court also took note of the article titled: ‘Menstruation and Crime’ authored by Dr. Katharina Dalton, where the learned author notes that:

(i)         Hormonal changes can cause women to commit crime during menstruation. Premenstrual tension is often accompanied by irritability, lethargy, depression and water retention, and these symptoms alone may be responsible for certain crimes, for example, irritability and loss of temper may lead to violence and assault, lethargy may lead to child neglect, and depression may lead to suicide. If water retention is present in an alcoholic, then alcohol retention tends to occur, increasing the liability for the woman to become drunk and disorderly.

(ii)        If criminal behaviour is proved to be associated with hormonal changes regards being had to the female reproductive cycle, then such a finding can be made admissible in criminal trials of such female offenders. Moreover, psychological symptoms associated with menstruation can form a plea of insanity for some female offenders.

Interestingly, in 1980-81, two British women escaped murder convictions by arguing that their legal responsibility diminished owing to premenstrual stress syndrome. In the matter of: Regina V/s Craddock (1981, 1 C.L. 49), Sandie Craddock, an East London barmaid with 45 prior convictions, in a fit of rage, stabbed a fellow barmaid three (3) times through the heart. Similarly, in the matter of: Regina V/s English (An unreported decision of the Norwich Crown Court dated: 10.11.1981), Christine English, after a quarrel with her lover, crushed him to death against a utility pole with her car. In both these cases, Craddock (Supra) and English (Supra), with the aid of testimony of Dr. Katharina Dalton (world’s most prominent advocate for premenstrual stress syndrome), each woman was convicted only of manslaughter due to premenstrual stress syndrome diminished responsibility. Neither of the accused was punished for their killing. Craddock received probation and English received a 12-month conditional discharge with a driving ban. Captivatingly, about a year after the conviction, Craddock was re-arrested for an equivocal attempt to murder a policeman. Convicted on three (3) new charges, Craddock again argued premenstrual stress syndrome to mitigate her sentence and again received probation. These judgments were approved on appeal.

Craddock and English are only two of the many British and Canadian defendants who were able to reduce their criminal responsibility by pleading premenstrual stress syndrome.

j.    Insanity may be defined as the lack of understanding or having the mental capacity to enter into a rational state of normal responsibility. Two fundamental elements which are required to be fulfilled to establish the plea of insanity are: (1) The accused must suffer from a mental disease or defect, and, (2) An underlying relationship must exist between the disease or defect and the criminal offence.

k.   In a criminal trial, while the prosecution has to prove its case beyond reasonable doubt, the accused has to merely probabilize his/her defence on the anvil of preponderance of probabilities. There is no bar in Section 84 of the Indian Penal Code, 1860 to raise the defence of premenstrual stress syndrome. Even if an accused has not been able to establish conclusively that he was insane at the time of committing the offence, but if the defence pleaded by the accused before the court or by the prosecution, as the case may be, raises a reasonable doubt in the mind of the court as regards one or more of the ingredients qua the offence, including mens rea of the accused, then in that eventuality the court would be entitled to acquit the accused on the ground that the prosecution has failed to discharge its burden of proving the offence beyond reasonable doubt.

About Shivam Goel

Shivam GoelShivam Goel; B.Com (H), LL.B. (Delhi University), LL.M. (NUJS, Kolkata); Author of: Corporate Manslaughter and Corporate Homicide: Scope for a New Legislation in India, Partridge India, 2015; Associate, S.G. & Co. (New Delhi);

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