Mental illnesses and disorders in many segments of the country are still considered a taboo, so much so, that they are often brushed under the carpet. This leads to individuals being unable to seek help and end up living a life of torment. For those already living in restricted conditions, such as prisons, the disorder often worsens, when not treated in time. In the wake of this, the Supreme Court’s order to set up a medical board to examine mental illnesses of jail inmates is much appreciated. The law ministry has been directed to set up a board that would include two psychiatrists, a clinical psychologist and a professional health expert, if needed. The board would be responsible to examine an inmate and submit their report within the specified time, ahead of the accused’s hearing in court. Based on the finding of the report, the magistrate would decide whether the inmate is sound and capable to defend themselves or not.
This directive from the top court to set up a medical board was made in February, following the historic decision of banning execution of people with mental illnesses. “[We] hold that if a condemned prisoner, due to mental illness, is found to be unable to comprehend the rationale and reason behind his/her punishment, then carrying out the death sentence will not meet the ends of justice,” reads the verdict that proved to be a relief for many inmates who had been languishing in jails across the country. As per the official date released in the starting of the year, around 600 prisoners are suffering from mental illnesses. The landmark verdict was the first time in over 70 years, where the apex court had recognized the plight of mentally-ill inmates. Similarly, the medical board would also be a first of its kinds, providing hope to many.
We have witnessed many a times in the past, where a mentally-ill person had been wrongly accused of a crime and was thrown behind bars. In fact, in September a Lahore woman claiming prophethood was sentenced to death, as her council had failed to prove she was mentally unstable at the time of the claim. In cases like these, a medical board consisting of experts can provide the much-needed understanding of the matter than the legal fraternity ill-equipped to determine the same. We can only hope that the implementation of this newly setup board is followed through in cases where it is required.