Case BriefsHigh Courts

Uttaranchal High Court: A Division Bench of Alok Singh and Ravindra Maithani, JJ. entertained an appeal filed by the appellant-wife who challenged the judgment passed by the Family Court, dissolving the marriage of the appellant and respondent.

In the initial case, the respondent-husband had alleged that the appellant was mentally sick and she suffered from generalized epilepsy, it was further contended that the case of the appellant was incurable. The respondent narrated that on the third day of marriage itself the appellant felt unconscious and with the passage of time due to the mental illness of the appellant the couple was not able to consummate. Hence on the basis of mental disorder, the respondent sought divorce which was duly awarded by the Family Court, after examining witnesses and evidences.

The said appellant hence filed the instant appeal and contended that she never suffered from such mental disorder and thus, the allegation of the respondent was false. She also contended that the marriage was consummated and she was pregnant at a point of time but pregnancy was aborted due to uncertain circumstances. She denied all the allegations made by the appellant and alleged that demand of dowry was made by the respondent’s family, as the demand was not fulfilled the respondent deserted her. It was further contended that the decision of the Family Court was not justified and the appellant never wanted divorce.

The Family Court had observed that the appellant-wife had not presented any evidence or witness in support of her claim and she had simply denied the claims and allegation made by the respondent.

In the instant appeal the counsel for the appellant, J.P. Joshi, placed reliance on Kollam Chandra Sekhar v. Kollam Padma Latha, 2013 AIR SCW 5559, where Supreme Court observed that if mental illness is proved, and even then the family court was not justified in granting the divorce. The Court observed that all the witnesses produced by the husband supported his case. It was further observed that the husband stated that appellant–wife was not able to do her day to day work; he had to maintain her in every possible way. The Court found that the appellant wife had not disclosed about her illness prior to marriage. The statement of the medical practitioner was attached who examined the appellant and found that she suffered from mental illness. The Court found the story of the respondent to be true. It was held that, “Since there is no rebuttal with proof on the part of appellant wife, we have no option except to accept the version of respondent-husband that appellant wife is mentally sick and she was unable to manage her matrimonial life. Appellant wife had neither produced any witness nor got herself examined as a witness.” The Court stated that in the present case the decision of Kollam was not applicable as in Kollam the wife did not show any symptom of psychotic illness and responded well to the treatment but in this particular case wife was not able to manage her daily martial life. Hence the judgment of the Family Court was upheld.[Mamta Negi v. Yogendra Singh Negi, 2019 SCC OnLine Utt 576, decided on 12-07-2019]

Case BriefsSupreme Court

Supreme Court: The 3-judge bench of NV Ramana, MM Shantanagoudar and Indira Banerjee, JJ held

“it needs to be understood that prisoners tend to have increased affinity to mental illness. Moreover, due to legal constraints on the recognition of broad­spectrum mental illness within the Criminal Justice System, prisons inevitably become home for a greater number of mentally­ill prisoners of various degrees. There is no overlooking of the fact that the realities within the prison walls may well compound and complicate these problems.”

It said that the aspiration of the Mental Healthcare Act, 2017 was to provide mental health care facility for those who are in need including prisoners. The State Governments are obliged under Section 103 of the Act to setup a mental health establishment in the medical wing of at least one prison in each State and Union Territory, and prisoners with mental illness may ordinarily be referred to andcared for in the said mental health establishment.

The Court was hearing a case of a death row convict suffering from post-conviction mental illness. He is on death row since almost 17 years for rape and murder of 2 young girls. The Court was, hence, called upon to decide

• How culpability be assessed for sentencing those with mental illness?
• Is treatment better suited than punishment?\

The Court noticed that there are no set disorders/disabilities for evaluating the ‘severe mental illness’, however a ‘test of severity’ can be a guiding factor for recognizing those mental illness which qualify for an exemption. Therefore,

“the test envisaged herein predicates that the offender needs to have a severe mental illness or disability, which simply means that a medical professional would objectively consider the illness to be most serious so that he cannot understand or comprehend the nature and purpose behind the imposition of such punishment. These disorders generally include schizophrenia, other serious psychotic disorders, and dissociative disorders­with schizophrenia.”

Test of severity of post-conviction mental disability

  • The post­conviction severe mental illness will be a mitigating factor that the appellate Court, in appropriate cases, needs to consider while sentencing an accused to death penalty.
  • The assessment of such disability should be conducted by a multi­disciplinary team of qualified professionals (experienced medical practitioners, criminologists etc), including professional with expertise in accused’s particular mental illness.
  • The burden is on the accused to prove by a preponderance of clear evidence that he is suffering with severe mental illness. The accused has to demonstrate active, residual or prodromal symptoms, that the severe mental disability was manifesting.
  • The State may offer evidence to rebut such claim.
  • Court in appropriate cases could setup a panel to submit an expert report.
  • ‘Test of severity’ envisaged herein predicates that the offender needs to have a severe mental illness or disability, which simply means that objectively the illness needs to be most serious that the accused cannot understand or comprehend the nature and purpose behind the imposition of such punishment.

Mitigation of sentence in case at hand

The Court noticed that the present accused has been reeling under bouts of some form of mental irritability since 1994, as apparent from the records placed before us. Moreover, he has suffered long incarceration as well as a death row convict. It is this state of ‘accused x’ that obliges the State to act as parens patriae. In this state ‘accused x’ cannot be ignored and left to rot away, rather, he requires care and treatment. The Court, hence, held,

“the petition is allowed to the extent that the sentence of death awarded to the Petitioner is commuted to imprisonment for the remainder of his life sans any right to remission.”

[‘X’ v. State of Maharashtra, 2019 SCC OnLine SC 543, decided on 12.04.2018]