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The Delhi High Court yesterday passed an extensive judgment, lashing out at the police, mental health professionals, and Metropolitan Magistrates for the illegal detention of a 72-year-old man.
The man in question, one Ram Kumar, had been defending a claim petition before the Motor Accidents Claim Tribunal (MACT) for over 10 years as party-in-person. In November last year, he entered into an altercation with the opposite side and allegedly used unparliamentary language.
The Presiding Officer called the police and decided to have Kumar sent for medical (psychiatric) evaluation at the Dr. Baba Saheb Ambedkar (BSA) Hospital. Kumar was kept at the BSA Hospital till quarter to six in the evening, and was thereafter produced before the Metropolitan Magistrate (MM).
The MM passed an order sending Kumar to the Institute of Human Behaviour and Allied Sciences (IHBAS) to be kept under observation for 24 hours. Thereafter, in another order passed on November 5, the duty MM directed that Kumar be admitted for fifteen days.
Thereafter, a petition was filed by Kumar’s son Ravinder, through Advocates Akhil Sharma and Isha Aggarwal in the Delhi High Court, claiming that his father had been illegally detained.
The High Court, through its November 2017 order, had set aside the orders of the Metropolitan Magistrates and had directed that Kumar be left to the care of his family. The Court had pulled up the IHBAS and the MMs for acting in contravention of the Mental Health Act.
Noting the conduct of the police, the mental health professionals, and the magistrates, the Division Bench of Justices S Muralidhar and IS Mehta observed in the judgment 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 MHA is not a penal statute intended to punish a person for disorderly behaviour in a Court. It is not a penal custodial law. It is a law for the care and treatment of mentally ill persons.”
The Court noted that the family of the detainee was not informed of the grounds of his detention and observed that it was another serious violation of his right to life and liberty under Article 21 and the fundamental rights of an arrested person under Article 22 of the Constitution.
The Bench further observed,
“This case is a pointer to the need to sensitise the judicial officers presiding over courts and tribunals subordinate to the High Court to be aware of the constitutional dimensions of their judicial power…
The judges have to be conscious that judicial power exercised indiscriminately, or as in this case the exercise of non-existent judicial power may result in serious violations of the person‘s constitutional and fundamental rights.”
With regard to the Metropolitan Magistrate sending Kumar for a medical assessment for creating a ruckus inside the courtroom, the Bench observed,
“It is not unusual in our Courts to come across vexatious litigants making wild allegations against all and sundry. Their petitions and the prayers therein are often incomprehensible. Not infrequently, they give vent to their frustrations in Court. They test the patience of the Courts and lawyers.”
The Bench stated that in such instances, the Court may take measures to restore calm. However, it may not straight away invoke the Mental Health Act.
The Court also noted the plight of the judges and stated that 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, the Bench stated that being a 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.
Finally, the Court apologized to Ram Kumar, who had been illegally detained due to the unlawful orders passed by the MMs and directed the Government of Delhi to pay a token compensation of Rs. 2 lakh.
The Court also passed a slew of directions for avoiding such a situation in the future, including a direction to the Delhi Judicial Academy to organise at least four exclusive orientation courses on the MHA and its successor, the Mental Healthcare Act 2017, for the judicial officers, the mental health professionals and the Delhi Police.