In an unfortunate case of “ litigation neurosis ” which led to a 71-year-old litigant and a heart patient spending 20 days in a mental institution only for losing temper in court over the tardy pace of hearing in his case, the Delhi High Court has directed the Delhi government to pay a compensation of Rs 2 lakh to the senior citizen while also apologizing to him and his family for the illegal order passed by a Metropolitan Magistrate which led to his ordeal.
A bench of Justice S Muralidhar and Justice IS Mehta apologized to the 71-year old man who was released from IHBAS last year after illegal confinement of 20 days only after his son moved the high court in November last year.
The genesis of the problem that Respondent No.4 (senior citizen) faced was the case initiated in year 2008 before the Motor Accident Claims Tribunal which he was defending as party in person.
On a given date in November last year, the respondent could not appear in court in time and when he reached the court, he was informed that the matter has been posted for another date. The respondent lost his temper and created a scene in the court following which the presiding officer ordered that he be taken into custody by the police. From there, he was taken to a hospital for checkup. Later in the night, a duty magistrate ordered that he be sent to IHBAS. All this was without citing any law or the Mental Health Act.
To this, the high court said, “The 10-year wait 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 annoyance caused to the presiding Judge of the MACT was 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”.
“The mere fact that Respondent No.4 may have talked loudly, behaved authoritatively, repeated himself or had ‘grandiose ideas’ did not make him a ‘mentally ill person’ within the meaning of the MHA. Respondent No.4, a heart patient, was subject to tremendous stress on account of his illegal confinement at IHBAS. In short, there was a cascade of violations that had a domino effect on Respondent No.4 denuding him of his rights to life, liberty, dignity and privacy,” said the bench.
The court also said “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. If the Court considers prima facie that the conduct of the person constitutes contempt of the court, then recourse can be had to the procedure set out in the Contempt of Courts Act 1971.
“However, 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. Likewise, for the MM to pass a reception order sending such person to a mental health facility for observation, without referring to any law or source of judicial power is unacceptable. Indiscriminate use of a non-existent judicial power is bound to invite opprobrium and invalidation.
The bench has now issued a direction the MACT-2, Rohini Courts, to “positively dispose of the case involving the respondent within a period of six months from today. The Judge MACT-2, Rohini Courts, will give the above case priority and enforce strict timelines for the parties”.
Facts of the case:
The respondent and his son are defending a Motor Accident Claim petition before the MACT in the Rohini Courts, Delhi. This is a claim filed originally in 2008, arising from road accident that happened in 2007. The accident involved a mini bus owned by the respondent which at the relevant time was being driven by his son. They have been appearing in person in the case for some years now.
On 5th July 2017, this case was listed before the MACT. When it was called out in the forenoon, the respondent was not present. The MACT gave the claimant before it a last and final opportunity to conclude his entire evidence on the next date and adjourned the case to 3rd November 2017.
Subsequently on the same day, when some other case was going on before the MACT, the respondent appeared at 3.15 pm. The presiding officer later noted in the order that the respondent started creating a scene in the courtroom and used untoward language about the judge’s predecessor. He persisted even when apprised about the case being fixed for the next date.
On November 3, 2017, when the case was being heard before the MACT, an altercation took place between the respondent and the lawyers for the opposite parties and the judge went on to note n his order that the respondent shouted and used unparliamentary language.
The respondent was then taken by ASI Krishan Kumar and Constable Maya Ram to the BSA Hospital, Rohini, for medical examination.
Thereafter, ASI Krishan Kumar and Constable Maya Ram brought him back to the Rohini District Courts Complex. However, the court had closed for the day and as a result, he was taken to the residence of the duty magistrate where he could be produced only around 9 PM.
There, ASI Krishan Kumar presented an application before the Duty MM praying for an order to the effect that Respondent should be sent to IHBAS. No provision of any law was cited in this application.
By this time also, none of the family members of the respondent had been informed by ASI Krishan Kumar that he had been detained.
On November 5, 2017 the MM passed the orders for keeping respondent at IHBAS without talking to his sons and daughter who were present before him.
The respondent was not provided any legal aid at IHBAS even as there is a legal aid clinic established on its premises by the Delhi State Legal Services Authority (DSLSA).
The high court noted that “the present case presents 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. It points to the disastrous consequences that the abuse of the mental health law can have for the right to liberty, dignity and privacy”.
The bench was also of the view that MHA was not and also could not have been invoked in the present case.
“To treat a person causing disorderliness in court as one requiring to be taken into police custody straightaway and then for such person to be taken in custody for a medical check up, without the authority of law, is in clear violation of Article 21 of the Constitution.
“The second violation of the fundamental and constitutional rights of Respondent No.4 took place on the night of 3rd November 2017 when the Duty MM passed a ‘reception order’ directing Respondent No.4 to be kept at IHBAS for more than 24 hours. This was on an application by ASI Krishan Kumar praying for an order that Respondent No.4 should be sent to IHBAS. It will be recalled that this application cited no provision of any law. This resulted in a totally illegal ‘reception order’ being passed without reference to any law; without informing the family of Respondent No.4; and without ensuring that Respondent No.4 was represented by a legal aid counsel,” it noted.
“The MMs who dealt with his case did not bother to refer to any law for the source of their power. Their orders on 3rd, 5th and 20th November 2017 were without the authority of law. Respondent No.4 ought not to have been proceeded against under the MHA at all in the first place. There was no determination that he had any problem concerning his mental health that required a reception order to be passed under the MHA,” it said.
Apart from the violation of the fundamental rights to liberty, dignity and privacy of Respondent No.4, as enshrined in Article 21 of the Constitution, the high court held that the orders of the MM also were in violation of the right of Respondent No. 4 to being informed of the grounds of arrest and legal representation in the proceedings as contained in Article 22 read with Section 12 of the Legal Services Authorities Act, 1987 (LSAA).
“In the present case, at no stage during his incarceration at IHBAS between 3rd and 23rd November 2017, was there a certification by a qualified mental health professional that Respondent No.4 suffered from any mental illness that required him to be admitted to IHBAS for treatment. Therefore, there was no question of applying the MHA at all. Further the MMs in any event made no reference to the MHA in any of their orders,” the high court noted.
Taking home from international jurisprudence, the bench stressed that law of mental health in India should move towards recognizing the autonomy of the person whose mental illness requires care and treatment and the penal custodial model of the mental health law is dismantled.
The court has granted following reliefs and passed directions as under:
(i) This Court expresses its apology to Respondent No.4, and his family members including the Petitioner, for the unlawful orders passed by the MMs on 3 rd, 5th and 20th November 2017, which have already been held illegal and set aside by this Court by its order dated 25th November 2017.
(ii) The Court directs that a token compensation of Rs.2 lakhs shall be paid by the Government of NCT of Delhi to Respondent No.4 within four weeks by way of a demand draft, for his being illegally detained between 3rd November 2017 and 23rd November 2017 at IHBAS. This, however, will not prevent Respondent No.4 from seeking other remedies that he may have in accordance with law against the State, IHBAS and the doctors involved.
(iii) The original record of IHBAS deposited with the Court will be handed over by a Special Messenger to the Secretary, Medical Council of India in a sealed cover forthwith along with the copy of the paperbook of this case. The Registry will, prior thereto, scan the IHBAS record, and retain a copy thereof digitally signed by the Registrar, in the court record. An inspection of or issuance of a certified copy of the scanned record shall not be permitted unless specifically ordered by the court.
(iv) The MCI shall examine the IHBAS record delivered to it, as well as the paperbook of this case, including the affidavits filed by the IHBAS doctors concerned and if considered necessary initiate appropriate action against such of them involved in the wrongful detention at IHBAS of Respondent No.4 from 3rd to 23rd November 2017. The MCI will proceed in the matter in accordance with law. The exercise shall be completed within a period of 12 weeks from today.
(v)The MACT-2 Rohini Courts shall dispose of MACP No. 4277/2016 positively within a period of six months from today. The Judge MACT-2, Rohini Courts shall set and enforce strict timelines for the parties to adhere to.
(vi) NALSA and the DSLSA should, in collaboration with the Central Mental Health Authority (CMHA) and the Delhi State Mental Health Authority (SMHA), conduct a survey of the mental health institutions and facilities in the NCT of Delhi to ascertain how many inmates are being illegally held therein in violation of the MHA and the Constitution of India. This should be an on-going exercise even after the MHCA becomes operational from 8th July 2018. The initial exercise be completed within a period of six months from today.
(vii) Corrective and ameliorative action under the MHA and/or MHCA be taken by the NALSA and DSLSA in collaboration with the CMHA and SMHA. NALSA and the DSLSA will ensure that the NALSA 2015 Scheme is effectively implemented in the mental health facilities in the NCT of Delhi.
(viii) The Delhi Judicial Academy (DJA) shall organise at least four exclusive orientation courses on the MHA, and its successor legislation i.e. the Mental Healthcare Act 2017 every year, for the judicial officers, the mental health professionals in the NCR of Delhi and the Delhi Police. The DJA should associate the NALSA, DSLSA, the CMHA and the SMHA in this exercise.