In Medical Negligence Case: Mens Rea as intent not required

By:-Arun Shekhar Jawla

The Supreme Court formed a bench, comprising Justices AM Khanwilkar and Sanjiv Khanna, to look into the judgment of the Patna High Court. The bench has set aside a judgement and summoning order issued by the Trial Court which has ruled that “Mens Rea as intent not required in Medical negligence case”. This question has been raised due to High Court judgement in the case of Prabhat Kumar Singh vs. the State of Bihar.

Facts of the Case

A case of medical negligence was filed under section 304, 316/34 of the Indian Penal Code, 1860 by the complainant. Based on that summons was issued by the Trial Court to the accused. Instead of appearing to the court, the accused challenged the summon order in High Court which was later quashed by Patna HC as no evidence was found that showed any malicious or bad intent which can be considered as mens rea in the case. That’s why an appeal has been made in the Supreme Court to hear on the matter.

Question Raised- Whether without the credible opinion of a professional doctor or insisting medical evidence passed a summoning order, would prejudice the accused?

Judgement and Observation

The SC was of an opinion, while hearing the facts of the case, that Patna High Court was erroneous while passing the judgement and observed that in case of medical negligence, it need not be because of mens rea as intent. Even without mens rea, it would still constitute an offence of medical negligence.

Apart from the HC judgement, the SC also observed that the Trial Court did not follow the procedure and failed to prosecute a doctor for criminal medical negligence as required under CrPC.

The bench observed, “Trial Court had summoned the accused without asserting for medical evidence or inspection of a medical professional by the petitioner in support of his case made out in the complaint, as focused earlier by the SC in Jacob Mathew Vs. State of Punjab & Anr. Taking note of this fact, the bench set aside orders of both the trial court and the High Court.” It also mentioned that the Trial Court also failed to call upon the complainant to first examine the professional doctor as a witness as it should have done. Then only consider the matter on its demerits and merits and as per the existing law. While disposing of the matter, it clarified that the Trial Court needs to proceed without being influenced and only on the merits of the case.