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HC calls for stop to indiscriminate use of mental health law


Press Trust of India New Delhi
The Delhi High Court today directed the AAP government to pay Rs two lakh as token compensation to a 71-year-old man for his 20-day long illegal detention at IBHAS, after his outburst during a court proceeding.
Calling for a stop to the "indiscriminate use of mental health law" to punish people whose behaviour is found unacceptable, a bench of Justices S Muralidhar and I S Mehta apologised to the man, who is a heart patient, saying his case presented "a dismal failure of our system, which includes the police, the judiciary and the mental health professionals, to protect the fundamental rights of an individual".
The court also pointed to the "disastrous consequences" that the abuse of the mental health law can have on the right to liberty, dignity and privacy.
In the instant case, the man, Ram Kumar, who was on his own fighting a 10-year-long motor accident claim dispute, had on November 3 last year allegedly got into an altercation with the opposing side and used unparliamentary language during the proceedings.
He was then sent to police custody to Dr Baba Saheb Ambedkar (BSA) Hospital for psychiatric evaluation on the orders of the Presiding Officer of the Motor Accidents Claim Tribunal (MACT). Later in the day he was produced before a Metropolitan Magistrate (MM) who ordered that he be sent to the Institute of Human Behaviour and Allied Sciences (IHBAS) to be kept under observation for 24 hours.
On November 5, 2017, his stay at IBHAS was extended by another 15 days by a duty magistrate.
Kumar's "illegal detention" at IBHAS continued on the orders of a third MM till November 25, 2017 when his family filed a habeas corpus plea in the high court which ordered his immediate release, the bench noted in its 87 page decision.
Referring to how the situation had unfolded in the case, the bench said the genesis of the entire problem was the case he was defending in person in the MACT for the last 10 years which "had obviously tested his limits".
"Litigation fatigue had set in. Every day's wait for a litigant who has had to spend a decade defending a case is bound to aggravate his litigation neurosis," the court said which also noted that the annoyance caused to the presiding judge of the MACT was also not unexpected.
"The judicial system is overburdened. Judges too are humans. Most of them are overworked. Their patience gets tested often, particularly by litigants in person who, in the process of navigating the legal maze on their own, disrupt the orderly functioning of the Court. However, being part of an imperfect judicial system, a judge must be prepared for an outburst, every now and then, from a disgruntled user of the system.
"Where a person's behaviour disrupts the orderly proceedings in a court, and persuasion fails, the presiding judge can possibly requisition the security apparatus for assistance. At all times, the measures adopted will have to proportionate. The absolute minimum coercion ensuring the dignity of the person sought to be removed, consistent with the limits set by the law, should be deployed," the bench said, adding that recourse can also be taken to the Contempt of Courts Act.
Instead to get the police to take such person into custody and take him away for medical examination, without any order to that effect, is not an option available in law, the high court said, adding that "indiscriminate use of a non-existent judicial power is bound to invite opprobrium and invalidation".
The bench said that in the instant case the orders passed by the MMs as well as the decision of the mental health professionals of IBHAS to keep him confined there and the role of the police led to Kumar being subjected to "tremendous stress".
"In short there was a cascade of violations that had a domino effect on respondent No.4 (Kumar) denuding him of his rights to life, liberty, dignity and privacy," the high court said while disposing of the habeas corpus plea moved by the man's son.
While disposing of the matter, the bench expressed hope that "lessons would be learnt from the past failures" and a new beginning would be made under the new Mental Health Care Act (MHCA).
"It is time to abandon the earlier approach of using the mental health law to control or punish people whose behaviour is unacceptable but to view it as an instrument that facilitates care and treatment of the mentally ill in need of it, consistent with their rights to life, liberty, dignity, privacy and autonomy.
"The indiscriminate use of the mental health law has to stop. It is high time that we dismantled the penal custodial model of the mental health law," the bench said.
It also directed that the original medical records of Kumar when he was in IBHAS be sent to the Medical Council of India (MCI) which shall examine it and if necessary, initiate appropriate action against the doctors who were involved in his wrongful detention.
The high court said that this exercise shall be completed within 12 weeks.
A direction was also issued to the MACT at Rohini where Kumar case's is pending to dispose of the matter positively within a period of six months.

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First Published: Apr 27 2018 | 9:30 PM IST

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