The Delhi High Court held that when a claim of mental illness is produced before a court, either orally or through a formal application backed by supporting materials, a competent court must follow the procedure outlined in Section 5 of the Mental Healthcare Act, 2017 (MHA).

The Court noted that Section 105 entitles the individual claiming mental illness to seek a case reference to the Board during any judicial process.

The Court allowed a Petition challenging the Trial Court's order scheduling the sentence without addressing applications under Section 4 read with Section 11 of the Probation of Offenders Act, 1958 (POA) and Section 105 of the MHA.

The Bench of Justice Jyoti Singh observed, “the inexorable conclusion therefore is that if a claim of mental illness is made before the Court, whether orally or by an application, with some supporting material that the person is suffering from mental illness, an onerous responsibility is cast on the Competent Court to follow the procedure laid down in Section 105 of the 2017 Act”.

Advocate Madhav Khurana appeared for the Petitioner and Additional Public Prosecutor Yudhvir Singh Chauhan appeared for the State.

The petition was filed under Section 482 of the Criminal Procedure Code, 1973 (CrPC) challenging the order passed by the Trial Court. The challenge was based on the contention that the Trial Court scheduled the order on sentence without addressing the applications under Section 4 read with Section 11 of the Probation of Offenders Act, 1958 (POA), and Section 105 of the Mental Healthcare Act, 2017 (MHA), filed by the Petitioner. The Petitioner sought a direction for referring the case to the Probation Officer and the Medical Board as per the respective Acts before sentencing.

The Court noted that the MHA was enacted by the Parliament to repeal the Mental Health Act of 1987, aligning with India's commitments under the United Nations Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities, ratified by the Government of India in October 2007. Its primary objective was to ensure the provision of healthcare, treatment, and rehabilitation for individuals with mental illness while safeguarding and promoting their rights.

The Court reiterated the transformative potential of the MHA, emphasizing its rights-based framework. Chapter XIII of the Act outlined the 'responsibilities of other agencies,' with Section 105 specifying the mandatory procedure for the Competent Court when presented with proof of mental illness during a judicial process. The term 'shall' in Section 105 indicates the legislative intent that the prescribed procedure is obligatory.

The Bench observed that Section 105 pertained solely to an inquiry concerning a person alleged to have a mental illness, establishing a statutory right for individuals claiming such conditions, as defined in Section 2(1)(s) of the MHA. The provision compelled the Competent Court to refer the claim to the relevant Board, as defined in Section 2(1)(d), without allowing any prejudgment. Section 120 of the MHA conferred an overriding effect on the statute, making it prevail over any other law in force.

Section 105 creates a statutory right in favour of a person, who claims to be suffering from mental illness, as defined under Section 2(1)(s) of the 2017 Act, to seek reference of his case to the Board for its opinion during any judicial process and casts a consequential obligation on the Competent Court to make a reference and seek an opinion from the Board when such a claim is made before it. This is a clear mandate of Section 105 of the 2017 Act and is open to no exception or discretion by the Court”, the Bench added.

The Court noted that if a claim of mental illness was presented before the Court, the Competent Court had a weighty responsibility to adhere to the procedure stipulated in Section 105 of the MHA, with no room for exceptions or discretion.

In this case, the Court noted that the Petitioner had applied under Section 105 of the MHA, claiming mental illnesses and seeking a reference to the Board for assessment. The Trial Court, after initial arguments, deferred a decision on the application and scheduled the case for a sentence order. The Trial Court's practice of listing the matter for a sentence without deciding the Section 105 application goes against the MHA’s mandate. The State's proposal to decide the application concurrently with the sentence order was flawed. Section 105 requires a Board's assessment of alleged mental illnesses, crucial for determining the sentence, and, as rightly argued by the Petitioner, necessitates adjudication before scheduling the case for a sentence order.

Therefore, the Court directed the Trial Court to decide the Petitioner's application under Section 105 of the MHA.

Accordingly, the Court allowed the Petition.

Cause Title: Kunal Kashyap v State Of NCT Of Delhi (2024:DHC:342)

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