Lunacy Act, 1912

Lunacy Act, 1912

Introduction: Bangladesh is a poor country, in a gentle way we say developing country. In our country there are different kinds of laws and acts. Unfortunately most of the laws are not implemented properly. Violation of law in Bangladesh is a day to day event. Ironically the law is mostly violated by the higher authorities, politicians and the Government. It is very easy for them to violate laws because most of the people of our country are poor and they do not have proper education. Even educated people are not aware of the basic laws of our country. Here I tired to talk about ‘Lunacy Act’. This law is mostly unknown to people. This law is actually for a very small amount of people but still this is very important because everyone should be aware of this law.

Lunacy Act was first introduced in England as The Lunacy Act 1845 (8 & 9 Vict., c. 100) and the County Asylums Act 1845 formed mental health law in England and Wales from 1845 to 1890.[1] The Lunacy Act’s most important provision was a change in the status of mentally ill people to patients; previously they were prosecuted and usually treated as prisoners.[2] Before the Lunacy Act, to provide proper treatment to mentally ill people, County Asylums Act of 1808 was created in England. Then they started a facility which worked under this law to provide better medical treatment of mentally ill people and prisoners who have the intention to kill people. Prior to the Lunacy Act lunacy legislation in England was enshrined in the County Asylums Act of 1808, which established institutions for poor and for criminally-insane mentally ill people. The institutions were called asylums and they gave refuge where mental illness could receive proper treatment. The first asylum owing to the County Asylums Act opened at Northampton in 1811. By 1827 however only nine county asylums had opened and many patients were still in goal as prisoners and criminals. As a consequence of this slow progress the Lunacy Act 1845 created the Lunacy Commission to focus on lunacy legislation.[3]

Lunacy Act of 1912 in Bangladesh by Definition

“In this Act, unless there is anything repugnant in the subject or context,

(1) “asylum” means an asylum or mental hospital for lunatics established or licensed by the Government:

(2) “cost of maintenance” in an asylum includes the cost of lodging, maintenance, clothing, medicine and care of a lunatic and any expenditure incurred in removing such lunatic to and from an asylum together with any other charges specified in this behalf by the Government, in exercise of any power conferred upon it by this Act:

(3) “District Court” means the principal Civil Court of original Jurisdiction in any area:

(4) “criminal lunatic” means any person for whose detention in, or removal to an asylum, jail or other place of safe custody an order has been made in accordance with the provisions of section  466 or section 471 of the Code of Criminal Procedure, 1898 or of section 30 of the Prisoners Act,

1900, 4[ * * *] or of section 130 of the 5[ Army Act, 1952]:

(5) “lunatic” means an idiot or person of unsound mind:

(6) “Magistrate” means a District Magistrate, Sub-Divisional Magistrate or a Magistrate of the first class specially empowered by Government to perform the functions of a Magistrate under this Act:

(7) “medical officer” means a gazette medical officer in the service of the 6[ Republic], and includes a medical practitioner declared by general or special order of the Government to be a medical officer for the purposes of this Act:

(8) “medical practitioner” means a holder of a qualification to practice medicine and surgery which can be registered in the United Kingdom in accordance with the law for the time being in force for the registration of medical practitioners, and includes any person declared by general or special order of the Government to be a medical practitioner for the purposes of this Act:

(9) “prescribed” means prescribed by this Act or by rule made there under:

(10) “reception order” means an order made under the provisions of this Act for the reception into an asylum of a lunatic other than a lunatic so found by inquisition:

(11) “relative” includes any person related by blood, marriage or adoption: and

(12) “rule” means a rule made under this Act.”[4]

Lunacy Act of 1912, the Reality

In Bangladesh mental health is not taken very seriously. Mentally ill people are deprived from the basic need of our society. Still people treat them in a very bad manner. Like every other human being, mentally ill people are entitled to dignity, respect, and to be valued equally.

Bangladesh Constitution categorically mentioned that all citizens are equal before law.[5] In Articles 15, 17, 19 and 20 it provides for fulfillment of basic necessities of life including health services and equality. “Everyone has the right to a standard of living adequate for the health and well-being in circumstances beyond his control.”[6]

In reality huge number of mentally ill people and their families in Bangladesh are deprived of access to appropriate services every day. The only mental hospital established in 1957 was shifted to present premises in Pabna in 1958. In 1974 the Department of Psychiatry was established in the Dhaka Medical College Hospital and thereafter other Medical Colleges followed. In effect, there are two mental institutions, the National Institute for Mental Health and the Pabna Mental Hospital. In most of the medical colleges — in everyday services — psychiatrists are struggling with minimum or no budget and proper support staff.10 The National Health Policy of Bangladesh reiterates state’s responsibility and obligations under the Constitution but in none of its fifteen aims the issue of mental health was addressed. The only law that talks about mentally ill people is the age-old Lunacy Act of 1912. It is really a pity that till now we are recognizing mentally ill people as a lunatic/insane disrespecting them as a human let alone how ‘we’ treat. This law in no place ensures the rights of mentally ill people, rather considers them a burden of the society. The enactment of the Lunacy Act, 1912 had a farreaching consequence and impact on the whole system of present mental health services.

According to the UN principles for the protection of Persons with Mental Illness of 1991 “all persons with a mental illness shall be treated with humanity and respect”. “It is recognized that everyone has the right to the enjoyment of the highest attainable standard of mental health. If we seek sustainable change, these people must be helped come out of social stigma that will facilitate their involvement in the mainstream of life.”[7]

In the sub-continent India replaced the Lunacy Act of 1912 with the Mental Health Act of 1987.

In 2001, the Pakistan Mental Health Ordinance came into being which repealed this 1912 Act.

These laws discarded terms like ‘lunatic’ and provided more comprehensive set of definitions.

This transformation would require a minimum level of sensitivity on how to behave with mentally ill people, how to improve family care and what treatment can be done in the community with understanding of how to interact and work with them. The Government of Bangladesh should immediately repeal the existing Lunacy Act and along with other stakeholders start drafting and enact a Mental Health Act, which could be the guiding mechanism towards establishing rights of the mentally ill people of Bangladesh.[8]

“The Lunatic Asylums Act of 1858 was the first law solely governing persons with mental illness. This later was repealed, by the Lunacy Act, 1912, still prevailing in Bangladesh. It is really a pity that still, legally (and may be also socially); we are recognizing persons with mental illnesses as a lunatic and/or crazy/ insane disrespecting their position as a human being. In 1851 the “Lunatics Removal Act” was passed. This Act has the dubious distinction of being the first mental health legislation in British India. In pursuance of this Act and the rules framed there under, the flow of patients gradually dwindled, till it came to an end in 1891. We must not forget that archaic laws such as the Prisons Act, which relates with the Lunacy Act in application to determine the procedure for dealing with mentally ill convicts.”[9]

It could easily be noticed that this law in no place ensure the rights of a mentally ill person rather considering him/her a burden of the society and taking care of mainly his properties and assets. Unlike other areas of healthcare, our procedures and systems in the area of mental health continue to be governed by antiquated procedures and rules. The enactment of the Lunacy Act, 1912 had a far-reaching consequence and impact on the whole system of mental health services and administration.

Time for a Change

Countries like India and Pakistan is changing their mental health act. They are really working to change the scenario of their country. “In India, the Mental Health Act of 1987 repealed the Lunacy Act. Under this new legislation, the central supervision of all mental hospitals became a reality. This is a fundamental change in the management of mental hospitals. These hospitals were thus removed from the grip of the Inspector General of Prisons. The next most important change was the recognition of the role of specialists in the treatment of mental patients.

Psychiatrists were appointed as full time officers in mental hospitals. However, the mood and climate that faces the mentally ill is that of the eternally doomed. There is little hope for patients in a custodial environment that breeds isolation and exclusion. They are deprived of any skills for daily living and social interaction. There is no counseling to prepare patients for adjustment problems, relapses, re-admission or abandonment.”[10] I believe this is high time for Bangladesh to make changes in our Lunacy Act to change the scenario.

This law is very important for our country because around 2.25 crore people over 18 years are suffering from mental disorders while there is only one psychiatrist for every 1.40 lakh people in the country. This is very alarming because we still don’t have proper treatment for mentally ill people.[11] Our recourses are not enough to provide medication for this people. “Worse still, there are only 900 beds in government hospitals for the patients with mental illness.”[12] I think the time has come for the government of renew this law to ensure proper mental health care of our country.


1. Bangladesh, Ministry of Law, Justice and Parliamentary Affairs

Volume VI, The Lunacy Act, 1912

2. Fayazuddin Ahmad, “Enact the Mental Health Act”

The Daily Star, March 7, 2009

3. Hussain M Fazlul Bari, Lunatic prisoners: A judicial reply”

The Daily Star, October 15, 2005

4. Mahbuba Zannat, “World Mental Health Day Today”

The Daily Star, October 10, 2007

5. Fayazuddin Ahmad, “Sensitise Lunacy Act”

The Daily Star, October 10, 2009

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[1] Wikipedia, Lunacy Act 1845, 31 July, 2010

[2] Wikipedia, Lunacy Act 1845, 31 July, 2010

[3] Unsworth, Clive.”Law and Lunacy in Psychiatry’s ‘Golden Age'”, Oxford Journal of Legal Studies. Vol. 13, No. 4. (Winter, 1993), pp. 482

[4] The Lunacy Act 1912, Definitions, Ministry of Law, Justice and Parliamentary Affairs

[5] 8 Bangladesh Constitution (Article 27, 28 and 29)

[6] 9 Article 25 (1) of the UDHR

[7] 11 ICESCR (Article 12)

[8] 12 The Daily Star, Issue No: 109, March 07, 2009

[9] 13 The Daily Star, Issue No: 139. October 10, 2009

[10] 14 The Daily Star, Issue No: 139. October 10, 2009

[11] The Daily Star, October 10, 2007

[12] 16 The Daily Star, October 10, 2007