Duty of State to address special needs of ‘mentally ill’ remand prisoners: Madras HC

Time has come to conduct awareness programmes in police training academies and judicial academies to sensitise the officers concerned with regard to mental health issues, the Madurai Bench of the Madras High Court has observed.

Coming across a case where a prisoner was suffering from bipolar disorder, Justice G. R. Swaminathan observed that it is time the State revised the protocol regarding medical examination of the arrestees. The proforma for health screening of prisoners must contain a specific column as regards the mental well-being of the arrestee. The column cannot be filled up after posing formal questions to the arrestee. The duty doctor must observe independently and gather the inputs.

Section 20 (1) of the Mental Healthcare Act, 2017, states that every person with mental illness should have a right to live with dignity and the expression ‘every person’ would obviously include an arrestee / remand prisoner too, the judge said.

Sections 100 to 105 of the Act spells out duties of police officers and magistrates in respect of persons with mental illness. They are meant to be invoked in favour of mentally ill prisoners.

The judge said mental wellness of the arrestee should be noted. If he or she is found to be mentally ill, the provisions of the Mental Healthcare Act will automatically get attracted. The police, duty doctor and judicial officer have a positive obligation to perform. They must apply their mind specifically and record their satisfaction that the arrestee is not mentally ill. If they find indications of mental illness, the statutory procedure must be adopted.

Psychiatric ailments are ticking bombs. They lie beneath the surface. Unless they manifest themselves in a concrete manner in the behavior and conduct of the patient, one is hardly aware of it, the judge said.

The judge also recommended that every police officer and judge read Jerry Pinto’s ‘A book of light : when a loved one has a different mind’ and also watch the film ‘A Beautiful Mind’ based on the book with the same title by Sylvia Nasar.

The court was hearing the petition filed by a woman who sought a direction to consider her representation to shift her husband from Thoothukudi Government Hospital to Tirunelveli GH. The petitioner’s husband was suffering from bipolar disorder. He was arrested and remanded in judicial custody following the death of a man who got loan from him and two others. They were accused of collecting exorbitant interest.

Taking into account the fact that the woman’s husband had already received treatment in Tirunelveli, the judge permitted the prisoner to be transferred to Tirunelveli GH for receiving better treatment.

The judge, however, made it clear that the scope of the petition was confined to upholding the rights of the arrestee having special needs. It has absolutely no bearing on the investigation and that will proceed in accordance with law.

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