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]

Case BriefsSupreme Court

Supreme Court: In the Ruchika Girhotra case, the Court reduce the sentence of S.P.S. Rathore to the period already undergone by him as a special case considering his very advanced age. The Court upheld the findings as to the guilt of the appellant-accused, however, it was held that the cause of justice would be best sub-served when the sentence of the appellant-accused would be altered to the period already undergone. The counsel for the appellant had pointed out the mitigating factors i.e. old age of the appellant-accused, health ailments, responsibility of looking after the unmarried daughter suffering from congenital heart disease, past meritorious service and prolonged trial.

The appellant, IG of Police and also the founder of the Haryana Lawn Tennis Association (HLTA) was accused of molesting 15-year old Ruchika, the deceased who later committed suicide by consuming poison. The deceased had got herself enrolled as members of HLTA and the accused molested her in his office. Aradhana, the deceased’s friend was an eye witness. Relying upon her testimony, the Court said that she, being the sole witness to prove the actus reus, her evidence should receive some careful consideration and there is no reason for her to depose falsely against the appellant. The occurrence of the overt act is well proved by the unimpeachable testimony of the eye-witness.

Regarding the non-examination of two important site witnesses i.e. the ball picker and the Coach, the Court said that evidence is weighed and not counted. Evidence of even a single eye witness, truthful, consistent and inspiring confidence is sufficient for maintaining conviction. It is not necessary that all those persons who were present at the spot must be examined by the prosecution in order to prove the guilt of the accused. Having examined all the witnesses, even if other persons present nearby not examined, the evidence of eye-witness cannot be discarded.

With regard to the delay of about 6 days in presenting the complaint to the SHO, the Court said that in a tradition-bound non-permissive society in India, it would be extremely reluctant to admit that any incident which is likely to reflect upon chastity of a woman had occurred, being conscious of the danger of being ostracized by the society or being looked down by the society. The decision of the victim of not informing about the incident to the parents under the circumstances that the appellant was a very senior police officer of the State, was reasonable and it would not have been an easy decision for her to speak out.

The bench of V. Gopala Gowda and R.K. Agrawal, JJ said that the High Court, on proper re-appreciation of the entire evidence, came to the right conclusion that the prosecution was successful in proving the case beyond reasonable doubt and the offence punishable under Section 354 of the IPC was made out. There is devastating increase in cases relating to crime against women in the world and our country is also no exception to it. Although the statutory provisions provide strict penal action against such offenders, it is for the courts to ultimately decide whether such incident has occurred or not. The courts should be more cautious in appreciating the evidence and the accused should not be left scot-free merely on flimsy grounds. [S.P.S. Rathore v. C.B.I., 2016 SCC Online SC 985, decided on 23.09.2016]