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Forensic Psychology And Law in India


In a developing country such as India, forensic psychology has a lengthy history. It has been acknowledged for three decades as an applied discipline of psychology for crime detection, intervention, and rehabilitation of crime victims. Over the last three decades, technological improvements have transformed the criminal’s perspective, necessitating sophistication and innovation in technology creation for crime detection. The scope of investigations has grown beyond lie detection to tracking biopsychosocial components of criminal behaviour in suspects and accused.

Present paper is an attempt to highlight the landmarks developments, its utility in the areas of crime investigation, in prevention and detection of crime in India. The main purpose of this report is to highlight the current scenario of Forensic Science and Criminology in India by focusing on one of the many fields i.e., Forensic Psychology.
Keywords: Forensic Psychology, Criminology, Forensic Science, Law.


Psychology is the scientific study of behaviour and mental processes of both human and animals. The word forensic is derived from Latin term “forensis” meaning platform or forum. Forensic science in general is application of scientific methods and techniques for the purpose of administration of justice. The term “Crime” or “Criminal” are very contextual in nature. And can be better understood, and should be used with reference to specific legal, and judicial system of a particular state, Country or Province. It is to note that this term is required to be used with great caution as what one culture might consider as a crime might not be considered as a crime in another culture. On the other hand, an act may be considered as crime in one state, culture, province or legal system but may be considered to be a disease, which is also a reflection of enlightened cultures. Crime is an act which indicates maladjustment to a particular culture and a social concern, which is legally considered as an act of violation of law. Often confused as the similar the term “Criminality” and “crime” are different. While Criminality indicates intentions and attitude of indulging into criminal behaviour; Crime is an act against law. Criminal psychology aims to control Crime by providing interventions for Criminality. Crime is at times difficult to be concluded as crime. As it is not just contextual in nature it is also situation based. In a war situation when a soldier kills another soldier of counter army it is considered as the act of bravery and pride. But in civilians it is considered as crime. In case of a civilian crime, it is also important to consider if the act is as a result of self-defence, or under the influence of a substance or social pressure. Thus, on one side an act which is against the law is considered as crime as per the legal definition; the normative definition of crime highlights the act which offends our moral code. Criminal psychology is the study of Criminal behaviour, where term behaviour includes Personality, Attitude, Physiology, Learning, Motivation, Thinking and other cognitive Factors which contribute to the act of crime or criminal intentions. It is important to understand the psychology of criminals as it enables us to describe, explain, predict and control such behaviour.

“Forensic psychology is an emerging field in India” is what one usually hears while speaking to professionals who deal with crime in the country. A cursory Google search for forensic psychology in India will tell you just as much. While it can be agreed upon that crime investigation agencies are indeed adopting more measures which come under the domain of forensic psychology, there is still considerable scope for development. Forensic psychologists make up an integral part of criminal investigation systems, as well as prison systems in countries like the UK and Australia. Their profiles are diverse, and comprise taking up roles such as criminal profilers, expert witnesses in courts, suspect interrogators, prison rehabilitation officers and victim counsellors. Unfortunately, their counterparts in India lack such varied, well-defined roles. Indeed, the country’s criminal investigative and justice systems would benefit from opening up more domains to forensic psychologists, and using their expertise across various platforms. Various governmental and non-governmental agencies involved in crime investigations have separate departments dedicated to psychology. However, these departments see a greater use for clinical psychologists qualified in diagnostics and psychotherapy, as compared to qualified forensic psychologists. The reason behind this remains unclear.

Research Methodology

The proposed study would be engaged in deductive reasoning of enquiry and adopts qualitative methods of historical and analytical approach. This research paper is based on the doctrinal approach of research. It intends to rely on both primary literature as well as secondary sources.

Review of Literature

  • Forensic Psychology and Its role in Criminal Investigation- written by Sharon Dinil Kumar and published in February 2021 at International Medico-Legal Journal. This paper aim to find out whether the public of India is aware of applications of Psychology in Forensic Investigation, how common is mental illness in India and what is the status of forensics worldwide and in our own country. By the means of this report, it try to attract attention of authorities towards the significance of need for Forensic Psychologists, regulations, and training facilities, to aid in Criminal Investigations.
  • Role of forensic psychology in understanding criminal psychology- “This article is written by Sanjana Jain, from Guru Gobind Singh Indraprastha University, Delhi. This article talks about the role forensic psychologists play in understanding criminal psychology.”
  • ‘The Relationship Between Psychology and the Law’- this article talks about the relationship between Psychology and law. It tries to convey how psychology can be used in law and also points out the common things in both the disciplines and also their dissimilarities.

The Relationship Between Psychology and the Law

Law and psychology are two separate disciplines, but they have much in common. While the goal of psychology is to understand the behaviours and the purpose of the law to control it, both fields establish norms about people’s causes. This means that those interested in the study of human behaviours should not limit themselves to considering careers that, at first glance, do not seem to be relevant to psychology. The field of psychology and law uses resources and research methods and findings of social psychology and cognitive psychology, developmental psychology and clinical psychology to examine legal assumptions to evaluate whether they truly work or not and think in ways to expand them.

Legal psychology involves the practical and psychological investigation of the law, legal institutions and people who come into contact with the law. Legal psychologists usually take basic social and cognitive principles and apply them to problems in the legal system, such as eyewitness memory, jury decision making, investigations and interviews. The term legal psychology is used lately, mainly as a way to differentiate the experimental approach of legal psychology from clinically focused on forensic psychology. Together, legal psychology and forensic field psychology are more generally known as “psychology and law.” After the previous efforts of psychologists to report legal issues, psychology and law became a field of study in the 1960s as part of an effort to improve justice, though that original apprehension has diminished over time.

Forensic psychologists have many performances in the criminal justice system, which focus on three areas, law enforcement, corrections and courts. Three examples, one for each part, are police psychologists who work in police agencies, prison psychologists who work in correctional institutions in our country and expert witnesses who provide information to the courts. The relationship between the use of psychology and the law are getting closer every day, this opens the possibility to new careers and areas in which it must be perfected. Going for the future every day in my view is not going to be an option but rather a part of the justice system. Following the standards and the improvement of the system will go to the result of a fair justice for all.

For proper functioning of society a legal system is necessary. Legal system tries to solve many problems which exist in today’s society. Psychology is not considered relevant by some legal authorities but it is relevant and important as law deals with theories of behaviour.

There are various benefits of including psychology in law:

  • It helps in improving and shaping the decisions of decision makers by giving them much more accurate images and pictures of human perceptions and preferences.
  • It helps in checking the integrity of the witness as in many cases eyewitnesses can be influenced easily or can be threatened.
  • It helps in reduction of false confession.
  • Examination of various legally and socially significant areas is included in\ psychological studies.
  • True justice is ensured when the judgments are made after considering the psychological aspects of accused’s mind.

History of Forensic Psychology

In 1879 Wilhelm Wundt, often called the father of psychology found the world’s first psychological laboratory in Leipzig in Germany where was the first seeds of forensic psychology planted. In 1893 James McKeen Cattell conducted some of the earliest research on the psychology of testimony. He also inspired many other psychology experts to conduct their research in eyewitness testimony which further raised serious issues about its validity in a court of law. Alfred Binet replicated Cattell’s research and helped to find the first psychological laboratory in France at Sorbonne, Paris in 1889.

Louis William Stern of Germany established the first journal on the psychology of testimony which was published in Leipzig in 1903. This journal was replaced in 1907 by the much broader Zeitschrift für Angewande Psychologie (Journal of Applied Psychology), edited by Stern and his associate Otto Lipmann. Psychology Applied to Legal Evidence and Other Constructions of Law was published by George Frederick Arnold in 1906.

In 1978 the American Board of Forensic Psychology provides board certification in forensic psychology and the APA approves a clinical post in corrections at the Wisconsin Department of Corrections. In 1991 the American Academy of Forensic Psychology and American Psychology-Law Society (Division 41 of the APA) publishes Specialty Guidelines for Forensic Psychologists.

Forensic psychology was acknowledged as a specialty by the American Psychological Association in 2001 that is reaffirmed in 2008. The Specialty Guidelines for Forensic Psychology are revised, renamed, and published in 2013. Police and Public Safety Psychology (PPSP) acknowledged by the American Psychological in 2013.

Background of Forensic Psychology in India

The growth of forensic psychology began in the year 1917 when Prof. Prafulla Chandra Bose wrote a thesis on how forensic psychology must be used in understanding criminals and their behaviour. He gave the idea that one cannot give judgment in any case without understanding the crime that has been committed. For instance, in the Mental Health Act 2012, regarding the crime the crimes committed by mentally ill persons who labelled as insane were sent for treatment to the hospital.

The first lie detection division was set up at the Central Forensic Science Laboratory (CFSL) of the Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI) by 1968. In the very beginning, there were no proper training centres for professionals to be trained for lie detection. That time to conduct the lie detection tests they followed the procedures and methodologies described by Reid and Inbau in the book “Truth and Deception: The polygraph (lie-detector) technique” published in 1966. Since 1972, many forensic science laboratories had been started polygraph machines in various states of India.

While the forensic psychology department as such by name was not established in many state FSL’s instead many FSL had Lie Detection Division in which polygraph was used. Dr. S.L. Vaya conducted the first narco-analysis authorized by the court in 1989. But this was against the person in question. Later many more innovations had been taken place in the field of forensic psychology. This polygraph and narco-analysis are also used in many cases such as the Nithari killings, stamp scan, the double murder case of Noida. For forensic psychology to become one of the important parts of the criminal investigation a lot more work needs to be done and a lot more acceptance is essential.

Role of Forensic Psychology in the Courtroom

When the forensic psychologists are called by the police, lawyers, or judges to interview and assess criminals, its role begins, and the information acquired from these interviews are used as evidence in the court of law. In a medico-legal ward, under a court mandate, a Forensic Psychologist can work towards the rehabilitation of a criminal or a victim.

According to Section 45 of the Indian Evidence Act 1872, “the court can take help of the experts, whenever it has to form an opinion upon a point of foreign law or of science or art, or as to the identification of handwriting and the opinion of such an expert is relevant.” So according to this a forensic psychologist by presenting facts can assist the courts to execute the law in a just manner, these facts are in the form of reports of interviews and assessment of the person in question.

The role played by forensic psychologists will shed a light on the “men’s rea” of the person in question, mens rea is the state of mind of the person who generally pleads that he is not guilty in the witness stand during a trial. Those who plead guilty, claim that they have done the crime under influence of some substance or they were unaware that they have engaged in the crime, this gives the defence an opportunity to plead for lesser punishment or delay the final verdict of the judge. In such cases, experts are required to step in and assimilate the interview and assessment of the person in question to judge and give an opinion on how true the person’s statement is, this helps the judge to execute a judgment which is fair and also is in light of the safety of society and the individual.

Section 45 of The Indian Evidence Act 1872, also allows the forensic psychologist to give their expertise in solving criminal investigations, and this gives the opportunity to psychologists to make their forensic methods, according to the needs of cases.

Various Laws Related to Psychology

There are various acts and laws which are related to psychology. These are:

  • Section 84, IPC
  • The Mental Health Act, 1987
  • The Lunatic Act, 1912

Section 84, Indian Penal Code

Act of a person of unsound mind— According to this act if a person has committed an offence because of unsoundness of mind and does not understand the nature of his/her act. He/she does not realize that he is doing wrong or contrary to law.

The Mental Health Act, 1987

The Mental Health Act (MHA) 1987 was enacted for better treatment and care of mentally ill persons. The Act made provisions with respect to management of property and affairs of mentally ill persons. The Act also provides protection of human rights of mentally ill persons. The MHA 1987 contains 10 chapters and 98 sections.

  1. Chapter 1 deals with various definitions.
  2. Chapter 2 provides procedure for establishing mental health authorities at Center and State levels.
  3. Chapter 3 deals with the procedure for establishment and maintenance of psychiatric hospitals or psychiatric nursing homes.
  4. Chapter 4 provides provisions for admission and detention of mentally ill person in psychiatric hospital or psychiatric nursing home.
  5. Chapter 5 deals with the inspection, discharge, leave of absence and removal of mentally ill person.
  6. Chapter 6 deals with judicial inquisition regarding alleged mentally ill person possessing property, custody of his person and management of his property.
  7. Chapter 7 deals with liability to meet cost of maintenance of mentally ill persons detained in psychiatric hospitals or psychiatric nursing homes.
  8. Chapter 8 deals with protection of human rights of mentally ill persons.
  9. Chapter 9 deals with penal (punishments) ties and procedures.
  10. Chapter 10 deals with miscellaneous particulars.


Forensic Psychology not only involves criminal responsibility and fitness to stand trial, but mental health and proper treatment of mental illness also comes under this broad area. Ethically, a Forensic Psychologist is to inform the referral source as to whether there is known basis in either research or practice to answer the particular question and hence require awareness of legal and professional standards (Yadav, 2017). But why there is immediate need to address the issue of lack of Forensic Psychological and Psychiatric facilities in India? This is a pressing concern of requirement of adequate facilities and trained professional Forensic Psychologists in order to take care of mental healthcare of: General Public; Suspects and Victim during trials and proceedings and prisoners as well. We need to realise that mental health is equally important as physical health. People who suffer from mental illness are often dominated unknowingly, their illness is not acknowledged, and it not as uncommon as one would think.

There are not sufficient infrastructures and institutions for training in Forensic Psychology let alone for treatment and regular mental check-ups. There are hardly sufficient Forensic Laboratories and Medico-legal Labs because of which most of the psychological cases are dealt by clinical psychologists in hospital or psychiatric facilities. In many instances, the psychiatric and psychological facilities do not have separate wing for forensic purposes, consequently the forensic evaluation is performed by professionals not trained in forensic and medico-legal investigative areas. As an outcome of which, decisions are often based on trial-and-error method, instead of being based on expertise and proficiency.

Government has taken some initiatives towards this issue, including the National Institute of Mental Health and Neuro-Sciences (NIMHANS), Bengaluru, established in 2016. The NIMHANS has Centre for Human Rights, Ethics, Law and Mental Health which deals with enhanced training with high standards in investigative approaches of Forensic Psychology and Medico-legal Psychiatry.

The Indian Council for Medical Research (ICMR) conducted a survey in 2009 according to which 12.8% of children suffer from mental illness out of which 1-20% have Attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD). According to the 2003 survey by NIMHANS 1.1% of total Indian population has prevalence of Schizophrenia. Some of the epidemiological studies performed in India show that 2-30% of adolescents possess psychological problems out of which 8% suffer from psychological distress.

In India 72% of the population resides in rural areas, and there are only 0.03 psychologists per 100,000 people in India that too working majorly in Urban areas. In this case there should not even be cross questioning in why there is need for adequate psychological and psychiatric facilities equipped with Forensic training. Requirement of this is because Forensics go in hand with Legal investigations, and treating psychiatrists are not able to deliver appropriate help required to offenders and victims as they are trained for court of law.


It has been seen that the legal background of forensic psychology is not as strong as we expected it to be, currently, it is used as evidence in the Indian courts. So, an effective standard operating procedure has to be enforced, such that forensic psychology comes to play, and standardized guidelines shall be made which shall suggest where forensic psychology needs to be involved. In order to decrease recidivism, prisons around the country shall have forensic mental health professionals to sustain the path of rehabilitation.

There is high percentage of the drug abuse which can be a reason for building up a criminal behaviour. Drug use and addiction is the behavioural changes that starts to ultimately leads to mental illness. The amount of drug abuse might be a cause for greed for money and drug trafficking or drug abuse. The important factor behind about forensic psychology is based upon the mental set of mind and drug abuse a actually a huge role to play. Around 90 percent of the cases in the current scenario of criminal behaviour is the reason or need for drugs. There high increase in juvenile cases reasoning the possibility of drug use is absolutely a desire for more of selling drugs for sustaining. The need for juvenile cases is to learn in a hug amount to clear the understanding of new criminal behaviours. The in-built behavioural changes and study of different behaviours is important in criminal justice system.


I strongly propose that there is emergent need for India to pay attention towards the development of Forensic Science. So, what can be done is

  • More graduate, post-graduate and specialised courses can be introduced like other countries in world, so that students have option of choosing Forensic psychology as their career prospective
  • Every organisation whether schools, universities, private institutions, offices, government administrations should have a mental health care facility in-built, where rained professionals can work. This way public if not treated, least will be aware of such issues. They would not have to go to big institutions where they are afraid to disclose their identity or feel shy to receive treatment. In such in-built facilities they can be looked after anonymously. For this to happen the psychologists should be taught to handle the cases ethically.
  • In case the root cause is not treated completely, and someone wounds up with a crime on their hands, and they are not aware what mental and emotional support they can receive, along with the provision which states every individual has right to lawyer, they should also be given right to a Forensic Psychologist and if they cannot afford they will be appointed with one. This way, the Forensic Psychologist can not only assess the mental fitness of the individual to stand trial, but also ethically and within regulations assess the state of offender when he/she commit crime. A forensic psychologist will be able to provide with not only therapeutic support but also take care that human rights are not getting violated during the proceedings and investigation
  • By the means of aforementioned suggestions, we are not only spreading awareness but educating the people of India, training them and provide them with employment. It will be a win-win situation for everyone. All we need is adequate infrastructure, trained professionals not only in urban areas but especially in rural areas.
  • Once a Forensic Psychologist is assigned to Criminal in prison, whether they pled insanity or were generally convicted, regular check-ups can be performed so as to make sure they do not pose threat to their inmates in addition to once they get out of prison, are mentally and emotionally fit and do not pose threat to public outside.


Anat Jain