January 23, 2022

Relation Between Psychology and Law: A Brief Discussion

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Psychology is considered as the science of studying mental aspect which ascertains the human behavior. However, the application of psychology in the legal world deals with ascertaining various factors such as the mens rea in the crime, authenticity of the witness and most importantly the type of punishment which shall be granted as it is based on several factors such as the mental agony caused to the victim in the circumstances of rape cases, accidents caused in motor vehicles accident, etc and various mitigation and aggravating factors which led accused to commit a crime helping the courts to reach to conclusion which is righteous and provides fair justice to the victims. Thus, the widely used field of psychology which is employed in the law includes social, developmental, cognitive and clinical aspects of psychology. However, it contains certain limitations such as psychology is a field of science that does not grant certainty while law requires certainty having restricted application in family, criminal laws matter, etc. Also, the task of a psychologist is to act as an amicus brief but in some instances, due to lack of training, amicus brief is just called to cite and support personal opinion of a psychologist.[1]

Even the “American Society of Law and Psychology” suggests that the application of psychology in the field of law consists of implementation of clinical specialties in legal world on those people who come in with the interaction of such laws. Thus, legal psychology deals with social and cognitive principles which have been widely used in the areas of research and academics to perform an empirical research on the upcoming legal issues. Also, most of the psychologists function as an advisory and even as a trial consultant in the courts to help the Judges to reach out to conclusions. Not only this, as such study is based on empirical research, most of the times, they are called by the lawmakers during the crises to clear their doubts and establish the technical policies.[2] Also, psychologists are called by the Courts to give their testimony as legal experts under the Indian Evidence Act, 1872, for instance, the task of a forensic psychologist is to examine the memory of a witness whereas, on the other hand, a forensic psychologist helps to determine the proficiency of a defendant. Thus, though law and psychology are two distinct concepts but its application in the field of law is quite advantageous.

There is also another concept of psychology which has been widely applied in law which is termed as ‘forensic psychology’ that is applying such concept to comprehend the crimes, thus, including a clinical specialties’ in the committed crimes. Forensic psychology helps to ascertain one’s mental condition with respect to proving insanity as in most of the cases people claim it safeguard themselves. It also helps in determining the harmfulness or the risk associated with the person such as in the cases when the accused after completing his punishment is set free, he might be still harmful for the society.[3] Moreover, they play a great role in cases of divorce or child custody, as in such cases the future of a child or the spouse is at a risk, therefore, they review their behavior and submit their findings to the Judge. Last but not least, since the trial procedure is exhausting and lengthy, the forensic psychologist may recommend a person for any psychiatric treatment required.[4]

Case Studies

Moreover, the relationship of law and psychology can be determined with a popular case, which is Laxmi v. Union of India,[5] which is also known by the brutal acid attack case. The victim being a minor refused to marry Naeem Khan who was one of the accused. Unfortunately, to take revenge, Khan with two other men spilled acid all over her face. Initially, she was unable to understand and was in a deep pain and shock. This led to a state of psychological trauma which amounted to stress which made her helpless and insecure in a dangerous world. As told by her, she could neither touch her face nor wear clothes for months. She could see her skin melting, her family members tried to hide all the mirrors or glass objects in the house. Laxmi was burning alive and even tried to commit suicide as at one point of time she thought she cannot survive in such cruel society. However, she decided to choose the hard way and went through seven surgeries spread across seven years where in one of the surgery, the doctors sew her eyes.

On the other hand, apart from such trauma, the application of social learning theory under psychology can also be applied. Under such theory, new behaviors can be acquired from others just by seeing and imitating others, for instance, a child behaves and learns from his parents just by observing and seeing them. If we look at the present case, the country India still faces discrimination between men and women, men are considered to be at a more dominant position as they are supposed to earn while women are supposed to take care of household and the children. In such scenario, women are not allowed to object any of the decisions made by their husbands and enjoy their rights with freedom. Thus, the accused in this case who was a thirty two year old man proposed fifteen year old Laxmi who was a minor at that time stating that he loves her and wants to marry her soon but Laxmi was totally disinterested as she wanted to focus on her school education. Naeem Khan texted her several times but she gave no response. Therefore, in order to take revenge, he with his brother and his girlfriend pushed her and threw acid all over her face. Thus, having sufficient mens rea where the court sentenced the accused for a ten year imprisonment and granted the accused to provide compensation on the basis of mental and physical pain and suffering caused to the accused. Another major thing which shocked the victim is that the society is considered as a helping hand, however in such case, after acid was poured, she kept on begging to the people to take her to the hospital. Moreover, her relatives also didn’t support her much.

Thus, after this incident, Laxmi gained strength and decided to file a PIL in SC on ban of selling acid at local shops, so, that she can prevent such brutal crime and help girls to not go to the same pain, metal distress that require counseling sessions and change the thinking of the society as the nuisance caused by the accused was heinous in nature. After such acid attacks, there were number of cases reported which were similar in nature. Thus, it was only after this incident, the parliament introduced the new Criminal Amendment Act, 2013 which widened the scope of acid attacks with enhanced punishments. Therefore, the Supreme Court realized the importance to prevent such crime and issued guidelines to prevent acid attack such as the seller shall see the ID of the buyer and shall maintain a register consisting of the details of persons to whom acid is sold. He should also ask the purpose of the purchase, the minors are not allowed to purchase acids. Moreover, the acids shall be kept with supervision with compulsory checking of students and personnel working in laboratories.

The other case study where the concept of psychology is followed is to measure the mental trauma and distress caused to a person in motor vehicles accident under MVA, 2019. Such accidents may also develop PTSD among these MVA survivors who requires treatment for conditions such as cute stress disorder, reduced emotions, etc. Therefore, the act specifically provides compensation to the injured person based on bodily or mental injury caused by the accused to the injured person, taken into the consideration of the future value and opportunities earned by such person.[6] Such as in the case of Halligua v. Mohansundaram,[7] the court has held that human body is governed by the nervous system and even if there is no physical injury caused to a person, however it has caused a state of mental shock and distress amongst such individual as per the reports given by the psychologist, then the accused shall be liable for such harm caused to the nervous system and he shall be directed to pay damages. In cases of consumer disputes, the concept of deception arises; often big companies tend to show false advertisements and thus, the consumers have right against misinterpretations of commercials. However, the court has presumed that forced exposure approach under psychology which is basically showing advertisements in an unavoidable manner with respect to commercials may not deceive viewers because they are made to be lucrative and attentive with subtle disclaimers and qualifications[8]. Moreover, the IEA provides the experts witness to give their opinion such as in cases of handwriting, ascertain the state of mind of an accused or victim. It also provides the admissibility of polygraph test or narco analysis test in certain cases.

Thus, law and psychology work hand in hand that helps the court to consider on matters with technical aspects.

Conclusion and Suggestions

The courts in some cases do not accept these psychological tools which create difficulty in reaching conclusions. Considering the aspects of psychology applied in the formation of law in India, a new law is only framed when an incident takes place, it is found that the legislature is never planned for a new unusual crime, the victim has to undergo the process of mental torture, fighting against the society and last when the question of justice arises, the trial is exhausting and lengthy process where the victim is granted compensation. However, though law provides a strict form of punishment but the major problem associated with such cases is the aftermath of such incidents. Unless and until the victim makes up her mind to fight against the evil society, one cannot prosper in her life, in some instances, it has been found that though the accused were punished but the victim could not gain her consciousness and sense of security to live in the society and start with a new life. Moreover, the Indian society comes with a stereotype that the women are always at a fault, therefore, it said in the most of the cases woman should wear decent clothes, however no one questions the mentality of men in such aspects. Thus, this mentality has to changed and it can only happen when people become open minded and teach their children the principles of equality from the beginning itself that there lies no discrimination between men and women, what men can do, female can also perform the same tasks. Thus, even if the law changes, it is necessary that the backward thinking of people changes, so as to accommodate new and positive changes in the society.

On the other hand, it can be concluded that the concept of psychology leads to improved laws and legal decisions. Psychology is a framework which acts as a next big – step to make the legal changes perfect with the help of the concepts of both legal and forensic psychology which aids in giving new dimensions to the legal issues with solution as well. Hence, psychology provides scientific implementation which leads to improved justice to the victim. Therefore, thorough rules/ guidelines shall be established in implementation of psychological concepts in a given case.


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[1] Donald N. Bersoff, Psychologists and the Judicial System, (October 22,2021, 9:08PM), https://link.springer.com/article/10.1007%2FBF01044566

[2] GW Paton, Psychology In Relation to Law, (October 22,2021, 11:15PM), https://www.tandfonline.com/doi/abs/10.1080/00048403908541138?journalCode=rajp19

[3] Shari Seidman, Usinf Psychology to Control Law, (October 22,2021, 5:12 PM), https://wwws.law.northwestern.edu/faculty/fulltime/diamond/papers/usingpsychologytocontrollaw.pdf

[4] Ray Bull,Legal Psychology in 21st Century,(October 22,2021,9:10PM), file:///C:/Users/HP/Downloads/Legal_psychology_in_the_twenty-first_century.pdf

[5] Laxmi v. Union of India, 2014 4 SCC 427.

[6] JS Gayle Beck & Scott F. Coffee, Assessment and Treatment of PTSD after a MVA Collision,(October 22, 2021,6:40PM)

[7] Halligua v. Mohansundaram, AIR 1951 Mad 1056, (1951) IIMLJ 471.

[8] American Home Products Corp. v. Jhonson & Jhonson 1997.

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