9 Oct 2023 5:18 AM GMT
The Allahabad High Court has invoked the doctrine of ‘Parens Patriae’ to appoint petitioner-wife as the guardian of her husband who is in permanent vegetative state, to meet the ends of justice.A bench comprising of Justices Mahesh Chandra Tripathi and Prashant Kumar held “Mental incompetency is listed as an exceptional circumstance which would justify the exercise of this jurisdiction....
The Allahabad High Court has invoked the doctrine of ‘Parens Patriae’ to appoint petitioner-wife as the guardian of her husband who is in permanent vegetative state, to meet the ends of justice.
A bench comprising of Justices Mahesh Chandra Tripathi and Prashant Kumar held
“Mental incompetency is listed as an exceptional circumstance which would justify the exercise of this jurisdiction. If the Court is satisfied that the person concerned is in a vegetative state, then surely “parens patriae” jurisdiction can be exercised.”
Due to lack of legislation for appointment of Guardian for a person in comatose state, petitioner, wife, approached the High Court for being appointed as her husband’s guardian, so as to enable her to dispose of the property registered in his name. The wife wanted to be able to sell the property to meet the expenses of her husband’s treatment who was in a permanent vegetative state due to head injury.
The Court had on earlier occasion directed the Director, All India Institute of Medical Sciences, New Delhi (AIIMS) to constitute a Medical Board consisting of specialist doctors dealing with such conditions. Accordingly, report was submitted before the Court in which it was stated that the husband would require “prolonged supportive and nursing care and is unlikely to make significant neurological recovery in near future.”
Observing that the husband is in coma and a permanent vegetative state, the question for consideration of the Court was- in absence of provisions in the Mental Health Act and the Guardian and Wards Act, 1890 for person in vegetative state, who would be the guardian of such person to handle the property.
High Court Verdict
The Court relied on the doctrine of ‘Parens Patriae’ which in Britain means “the king is the father of the country and he was under the obligation to look after the interest of those who are unable to look after themselves.”
The Court observed that although there is a clear distinction between the Rights of Persons with Disabilities Act, 2016 and the Mental Healthcare Act, 2017, however, neither provides for guardian of a person in comatose state.
The Court relied on Aruna Ramchandra Shanbaug vs Union Of India & Ors, wherein the Supreme Court held that a person in minimal conscious state, though not fully coherent, are able to interact shall be governed by Rights of People with Disabilities Act, 2016. However, a person in permanent vegetative state will not be covered within the definition of persons with disabilities, and hence excluded from the ambit of the Act.
“Therefore, in the larger interest of patient lying in comatose state, who is in urgent need of treatment, support and for that they need funds to take care of this extraordinary situation, which cannot be ignored or compromised, hence, the Court is consciously bound to invoke power under Article 226 of the Constitution of India, to deal with such situation.”
Relying on various jurisdictions, the Court observed the doctrine of ‘Parens Patriae’ must be invoked under exceptional circumstances to “meet the ends of justice”. Justice Tripathi, speaking for the bench, held that mental incompetency is an exceptional circumstance which justifies the exercise of jurisdiction in invoking the doctrine for appointing guardian.
Accordingly, the Court appointed the petitioner-wife as the guardian of her husband. However, the Court also observed any relative or friend of the person in comatose state pointing that the guardian, so appointed, is not acting in the best interest of the person lying in comatose state, will have the locus to approach this Court for issuance of proper direction and for removal of the guardian.
Case Title: Pooja Sharma vs. State Of U.P. And 2 Others
Case Citation: 2023 LiveLaw (AB) 365
Appearances: Anupam Kulshreshtha, Amicus Curaie assisted by Ashvanee Kumar Srivastav, counsel for petitioner; S.P. Singh, Additional Solicitor General of India assisted by Paras Nath Rai, Senior Standing Counsel for Union of India, Ambrish Shukla, Additional Chief Standing Counsel and Fuzail Ahmad Ansari, Standing Counsel for the State respondents.
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