Mst. Safina Bano and others vs. Home Department and others, C.R.P.420/2016

Those with mental illness who are unable to comprehend the rationale and reason for their punishment cannot be sentenced to death.

In September 2020, a 5-member bench of the Supreme Court clubbed the cases of Imdad Ali, Kanizan Bibi, and Ghulam Abbas together, three death row prisoners who have argued they should not be executed due to serious mental illness. The Supreme Court considered the question and decided that those with mental illness who are found by a medical board to be unable to comprehend the rationale for their punishment, cannot be sentenced to death. The medical board would be constituted and notified by the federal and provincial governments. While this does not create a categorical bar to sentencing individuals with mental illness to death, this judgment confirms that mental illness is a strong mitigating factor that courts must take into account.

This case is distinct from the bars to death sentences for accused determined to be insane persons and persons of unsound mind under sections 84 or 306 of the PPC. Though the Supreme Court also noted that where an accused wants to seek the benefit of section 84, the onus rests on the defence to raise evidence of their mental illness at the time of the commission of the offence.