Madras HC calls for putting mental health screening as 'remand' criteria

The court voiced the opinion after coming to know that a man of unsound mind was arrested and remanded in judicial custody as his illness was not identified during the health screening.

Published: 19th November 2021 11:18 AM  |   Last Updated: 19th November 2021 11:19 AM   |  A+A-

Madras High Court

Madras High Court (File photo| EPS)

By Express News Service

MADURAI: The Madurai Bench of Madras High Court recently opined that it is time the State government revises the protocol followed for medical examination of the arrested persons. The protocol should include mental health checkup of the arrested persons as one of the criteria for remand, the court said.

Justice GR Swaminathan voiced the opinion after coming to know that a man of unsound mind was arrested and remanded in judicial custody as his illness was not identified during the health screening. The judge was hearing a petition filed by the wife of the remand prisoner requesting transfer of her husband from Thoothukudi government hospital to Tirunelveli government hospital for better treatment.

The judge noted the prisoner was arrested on October 21 in an usury case and was remanded in judicial custody the following day. "Though he suffers from bipolar disorder, the police as well as the prison authorities were not aware of it. Even when he was medically examined before being produced for remand, the duty doctor, who was an ENT specialist, did not notice it. The proforma report certifies he was fit for remand. To the questions as to whether the accused is suffering from any illness or is under medication, the answers have been noted in the negative," the judge said.

Justice Swaminathan said when the remand prisoner is of unsound mind, his condition could be ascertained only by his family members or those who have been taking care of him. "No purpose will be served by posing questions mechanically to the person concerned, since, often in such matters, the patient will be in the denial mode," the judge said.

Citing the provisions of the Mental Healthcare Act, 2017, the judge explained the duties of the police officers, doctors and remanding magistrate in handling arrestees with mental illness.

"The proforma for health screening of prisoners must contain a specific column on the mental well being of the arrestee. That column cannot be filled up by posing a formal question to the arrestee. The duty doctor must observe independently and gather inputs from the arrestee's close friend or relative," he said.

He added that if a person with special needs is denied such requisite facilities and amenities, that would certainly amount to cruel and inhuman treatment.

Further recommending some writings and a movie that speak about mental illness, the judge advised all stakeholders including police officers and judges to see them. "Time has come to conduct awareness programmes in police training academies and judicial academies to sensitise the officers concerned," he added.

Empathising with the situation of the woman, who broke down before the court while narrating her husband's condition, Justice Swaminathan ordered transfer of the prisoner to Tirunelveli Government Hospital.

However, he clarified the petition is confined only to upholding the rights of the arrestee having special needs. "It has no bearing on the investigation which will proceed in accordance with law," he added. 


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