The right of private defence are sections 96 and 97 of the Indian Penal Code-
“96. Things done in private defence. –
Nothing is an offence which is done in the exercise of the right of private defence.
97. Right of private defence of the body and of property. –
Every person has a right subject to the restrictions contained in Section 99, to defend—
First.- His own body, and the body of any other person, against any offence affecting the human body;
Secondly.- The property, whether moveable or immoveable, of himself or of any other person, against any act which is an offence falling under the definition of theft, robbery, mischief or criminal trespass, or which is an attempt to commit theft, robbery, mischief or criminal trespass.”
Section 100 of the Indian Penal Code is extracted as under:
“100. When the right of private defence of the body extends to causing death. –
The right of private defence of the body extends, under the restrictions mentioned in the last preceding section, to the voluntary causing of death or of any other harm to the assailant, if the offence which occasions the exercise of the right be of any of the descriptions hereinafter enumerated, namely: —
First. — Such an assault as may reasonably cause the apprehension that death will otherwise be the consequence of such assault;
Secondly. — Such an assault as may reasonably cause the apprehension that grievous hurt will otherwise be the consequence of such assault;
Thirdly. — An assault with the intention of committing rape;
Fourthly. — An assault with the intention of gratifying unnatural lust;
Fifthly. — An assault with the intention of kidnapping or abducting;
Sixthly. — An assault with the intention of wrongfully confining a person, under circumstances which may reasonably cause him to apprehend that he will be unable to have recourse to the public authorities for his release.”
Section 100 of the Indian Penal Code justifies the killing of an assailant when apprehension of atrocious crime enumerated in several clauses of the section is shown to exist. First clause of Section 100 applies to cases where there is reasonable apprehension of death while second clause is attracted where a person has a genuine apprehension that his adversary is going to attack him and he reasonably believes that the attack will result in a grievous hurt. In that event he can go to the extent of causing the latter’s death in the exercise of the right of private defence even though the latter may not have inflicted any blow or injury on him.
It is settled position of law that in order to justify the act of causing death of the assailant, the accused has simply to satisfy the court that he was faced with an assault which caused a reasonable apprehension of death or grievous hurt. The question whether the apprehension was reasonable or not is a question of fact depending upon the facts and circumstances of each case and no strait-jacket formula can be prescribed in this regard. The weapon used, the manner and nature of assault and other surrounding circumstances should be taken into account while evaluating whether the apprehension was justified or not.
Scope and foundation of the private defence
The rule as to the right of private defence has been stated by Russel on Crime (11th Edn., Vol.1, p.491) thus:
“….. a man is justified in resisting by force anyone who manifestly intends and endeavours by violence or surprise to commit a known felony against either his person, habitation or property. In these cases he is not obliged to retreat, and may not merely resist the attack where he stands but may indeed pursue his adversary until the danger is ended, and if in a conflict between them he happens to kill his attacker, such killing is justifiable.”
When enacting sections 96 to 106 of the Indian Penal Code, excepting from its penal provisions, certain classes of acts, done in good faith for the purpose of repelling unlawful aggressions, the Legislature clearly intended to arouse and encourage the manly spirit of self-defence amongst the citizens, when faced with grave danger. The law does not require a law-abiding citizen to behave like a coward when confronted with an imminent unlawful aggression.
As repeatedly observed by Supreme Court there is nothing more degrading to the human spirit than to run away in face of danger. The right of private defence is thus designed to serve a social purpose and deserves to be fostered within the prescribed limits.
Hari Singh Gour in his celebrated book on Penal Law of India (11th Edition 1998-99) aptly observed that self-help is the first rule of criminal law. It still remains a rule, though in process of time much attenuated by considerations of necessity, humanity, and social order.
According to Bentham, in his book `Principles of Penal Laws’ has observed “the right of defence is absolutely necessary”. It is based on the cardinal principle that it is the duty of man to help himself.
Killing in defence of a person, according to the English law, will amount to either justifiable or excusable homicide or chance medley, as the latter is termed, according to the circumstances of the case.
But there is another form of homicide which is excusable in self-defence. There are cases where the necessity for self- defence arises in a sudden quarrel in which both parties engage, or on account of the initial provocation given by the person who has to defend himself in the end against an assault endangering life.
The Indian Penal Code defines homicide in self-defence as a form of substantive right, and therefore, save and except the restrictions imposed on the right of the Code itself, it seems that the special rule of English Law as to the duty of retreating will have no application to this country where there is a real need for defending oneself against deadly assaults.
The right to protect one’s own person and property against the unlawful aggressions of others is a right inherent in man. The duty of protecting the person and property of others is a duty which man owes to society of which he is a member and the preservation of which is both his interest and duty. It is, indeed, a duty which flows from human sympathy.
As Bentham said: “It is a noble movement of the heart, that indignation which kindles at the sight of the feeble injured by the strong. It is noble movement which makes us forget our danger at the first cry of distress….. It concerns the public safety that every honest man should consider himself as the natural protector of every other.”
But such protection must not be extended beyond the necessities of the case, otherwise it will encourage a spirit or lawlessness and disorder. The right has, therefore, been restricted to offences against the human body and those relating to aggression on property.
Defend, not to retaliate.
When there is real apprehension that the aggressor might cause death or grievous hurt, in that event the right of private defence of the defender could even extend to causing of death. A mere reasonable apprehension is enough to put the right of self-defence into operation, but it is also settled position of law that a right of self-defence is only right to defend oneself and not to retaliate. It is not a right to take revenge.
Right of private defence of person and property is recognized in all free, civilised, democratic societies within certain reasonable limits. Those limits are dictated by two considerations:
(1) that the same right is claimed by all other members of the society and
(2) that it is the State which generally undertakes the responsibility for the maintenance of law and order.
The citizens, as a general rule, are neither expected to run away for safety when faced with grave and imminent danger to their person or property as a result of unlawful aggression, nor are they expected, by use of force, to right the wrong done to them or to punish the wrong doer of commission of offences.
A legal philosopher Michael Gorr in his article “Private Defense” (published in the Journal “Law and Philosophy” Volume 9, Number 3 / August 1990 at Page 241) observed as under:
“Extreme pacifists aside, virtually everyone agrees that it is sometimes morally permissible to engage in what Glanville Willams has termed “private defence”, i.e., to inflict serious (even lethal) harm upon another person in order to protect oneself or some innocent third party from suffering the same”.
Basic principle underlying the doctrine of the right of private defence
The basic principle underlying the doctrine of the right of private defence is that when an individual or his property is faced with a danger and immediate aid from the State machinery is not readily available, that individual is entitled to protect himself and his property. The right of private defence is available only to one who is suddenly confronted with the necessity of averting an impending danger not of self-creation.
That being so, the necessary corollary is that the violence which the citizen defending himself or his property is entitled to use must not be unduly disproportionate to the injury which is sought to be averted or which is reasonably apprehended and should not exceed its legitimate purpose.
The court in number of cases have laid down that when a person is exercising his right of private defence, it is not possible to weigh the force with which the right is exercised. The principle is common to all civilized jurisprudence.
In Robert B. Brown v. United States of America (1921) 256 US 335, it is observed that a person in fear of his life in not expected to modulate his defence step by step or tier by tier. Justice Holmes in the aforementioned case aptly observed “detached reflection cannot be demanded in the presence of an uplifted knife”.
Weighing with golden scales
According to Section 99 of the Indian Penal Code the injury which is inflicted by the person exercising the right should commensurate with the injury with which he is threatened. At the same time, it is difficult to expect from a person exercising this right in good faith, to weigh “with golden scales” what maximum amount of force is necessary to keep within the right every reasonable allowance should be made for the bona fide defender. The courts in one voice have said that it would be wholly unrealistic to expect of a person under assault to modulate his defence step by step according to attack.
The courts have always consistently held that the right of private defence extends to the killing of the actual or potential assailant when there is a reasonable and imminent apprehension of the atrocious crimes enumerated in the six clauses of section 100 of the IPC.
According to the combined effect of two clauses of section 100 IPC taking the life of the assailant would be justified on the plea of private defence; if the assault causes reasonable apprehension of death or grievous hurt to the person exercising the right. A person who is in imminent and reasonable danger of losing his life or limb may in the exercise of right of self-defence inflict any harm, even extending to death on his assailant either when the assault is attempted or directly threatened.
Brief enumeration of important cases
The legal position which has been crystallized from a large number of cases is that law does not require a citizen, however law-abiding he may be, to behave like a rank coward on any occasion. This principle has been enunciated in Mahandi v. Emperor [(1930) 31 Criminal Law Journal 654 (Lahore); Alingal Kunhinayan & Another v. Emperor Indian Law Reports 28 Madras 454; Ranganadham Perayya, In re (1957) 1 Andhra Weekly Reports 181.
The law clearly spells out that right of private defence is available only when there is reasonable apprehension of receiving the injury. The law makes it clear that it is necessary that the extent of right of private defence is that the force used must bear a reasonable proportion of the injury to be averted, that is the injury inflicted on the assailant must not be greater than is necessary for the protection of the person assaulted. A person in fear of his life is not expected to modulate his defence step by step, but at the same time it should not be totally disproportionate.
A Full Bench of the Orissa High Court in State of Orissa v. Rabindranath Dalai & Another 1973 Crl LJ 1686 (Orissa) (FB) summarized the legal position with respect to defence of person and property thus:
“In a civilized society the defence of person and property of every member thereof is the responsibility of the State. Consequently, there is a duty cast on every person faced with apprehension of imminent danger of his person or property to seek the aid of the machinery provided by the State but if immediately such aid is not available, he has the right of private defence.”
In Laxman Sahu v. State of Orissa 1986 (1) Supp SCC 555 the court observed that it is needless to point out in this connection that the right of private defence is available only to one who is suddenly confronted with immediate necessity of averting an impending danger not of his creation.
In Raghavan Achari v. State of Kerala 1993 Supp. (1) SCC 719 Supreme court observed that “No court expects the citizens not to defend themselves especially when they have already suffered grievous injuries”.
In Jagtar Singh v. State of Punjab AIR 1993 SC 970 Supreme court held that “the accused has taken a specific plea of right of self-defence and it is not necessary that he should prove it beyond all reasonable doubt. But if the circumstances warrant that he had a reasonable apprehension that death or grievous hurt was likely to be caused to him by the deceased or their companions, then if he had acted in the right of self- defence, he would be doing so lawfully.”
In Puran Singh & Others v. The State of Punjab (1975) 4 SCC 518 the court observed that in the following circumstances right of private defence can be exercised: –
i. There is no sufficient time for recourse to the public authorities
ii. There must be a reasonable apprehension of death or grievous hurt to the person or danger to the property concerned.
iii. More harm than necessary should not have been caused.
In Bhagwan Swaroop v. State of Madhya Pradesh (1992) 2 SCC 406 the court had held as under:-
“It is established on the record that Ramswaroop was being given lathi blows by the complainant party and it was at that time that gun-shot was fired by Bhagwan Swaroop to save his father from further blows. A lathi is capable of causing a simple as well as a fatal injury.
Whether in fact the injuries actually caused were simple or grievous is of no consequence. It is the scenario of a father being given lathi blows which has to be kept in mind and we are of the view that in such a situation a son could reasonably apprehend danger to the life of his father and his firing a gun-shot at that point of time in defence of his father is justified.”
In Kashmiri Lal & Others v. State of Punjab (1996) 10 SCC 471, the court held that “a person who is unlawfully attacked has every right to counteract and attack upon his assailant and cause such injury as may be necessary to ward off the apprehended danger or threat.”
In James Martin v. State of Kerala (2004) 2 SCC 203, the court again reiterated the principle that the accused need not prove the existence of the right of private defence beyond reasonable doubt. It is enough for him to show as in a civil case that the preponderance of probabilities is in favour of his plea.
In Gotipulla Venkatasiva Subbrayanam & Others v. The State of Andhra Pradesh & Another (1970) 1 SCC 235, the court held that “the right to private defence is a very valuable right and it has been recognized in all civilized and democratic societies within certain reasonable limits.”
In Mahabir Choudhary v. State of Bihar (1996) 5 SCC 107 the court held that “the High Court erred in holding that the appellants had no right to private defence at any stage. However, the court upheld the judgment of the sessions court holding that since the appellants had right to private defence to protect their property, but in the circumstances of the case, the appellants had exceeded right to private defence.
The court observed that right to private defence cannot be used to kill the wrongdoer unless the person concerned has a reasonable cause to fear that otherwise death or grievous hurt might ensue in which case that person would have full measure of right to private defence including killing”.
In Munshi Ram & Others v. Delhi Administration (1968) 2 SCR 455, the court observed that “it is well settled that even if the accused does not plead self defence, it is open to consider such a plea if the same arises from the material on record. The burden of establishing that plea is on the accused and that burden can be discharged by showing preponderance of probabilities in favour of that plea on the basis of materials available on record.
In State of Madhya Pradesh v. Ramesh (2005) 9 SCC 705, the court observed “every person has a right to defend his own body and the body of another person against any offence, affecting the human body. The right of self-defence commences as soon as reasonable apprehension arises and it is co-terminus with the duration of such apprehension. Again, it is defensive and not retributive right and can be exercised only in those cases where there is no time to have recourse to the protection of the public authorities.”
In Triloki Nath & Others v. State of U.P. (2005) 13 SCC 323 the court observed as under:- “No decision relied upon by the Appellants lays down a law in absolute terms that in all situations injuries on the persons of the accused have to be explained. Each case depends upon the fact situation obtaining therein.”
In Vidhya Singh v. State of Madhya Pradesh (1971) 3 SCC 244, the court observed that “the right of self-defence is a very valuable right, serving a social purpose and should not be construed narrowly. Situations have to be judged from the subjective point of view of the accused concerned in the surrounding excitement and confusion of the moment, confronted with a situation of peril and not by any microscopic and pedantic scrutiny.
In adjudging the question as to whether more force than was necessary was used in the prevailing circumstances on the spot it would be inappropriate, as held by this court, to adopt tests by detached objectivity which would be so natural in a court room, or that which would seem absolutely necessary to a perfectly cool bystander.
The person facing a reasonable apprehension of threat to himself cannot be expected to modulate his defence step by step with any arithmetical exactitude of only that much which is required in the thinking of a man in ordinary times or under normal circumstances.”
In Jai Dev v. State of Punjab AIR 1963 SC 612 the court held as under:- “as soon as the cause for the reasonable apprehension has disappeared and the threat has either been destroyed or has been put to rout, there can be no occasion to exercise the right of private defence.”
In order to find out whether right of private defence is available or not, the injuries received by the accused, the imminence of threat to his safety, the injuries caused by the accused and the circumstances whether the accused had time to have recourse to public authorities are all relevant factors to be considered.
In Buta Singh v. The State of Punjab (1991) 2 SCC 612, the court noted that a person who is apprehending death or bodily injury cannot weigh in golden scales in the spur of moment and in the heat of circumstances, the number of injuries required to disarm the assailants who were armed with weapons.
In moments of excitement and disturbed mental equilibrium it is often difficult to expect the parties to preserve composure and use exactly only so much force in retaliation commensurate with the danger apprehended to him where assault is imminent by use of force, it would be lawful to repel the force in self-defence and the right of private- defence commences, as soon as the threat becomes so imminent. Such situations have to be pragmatically viewed and not with high-powered spectacles or microscopes to detect slight or even marginal overstepping.
Due weightage has to be given to, and hyper technical approach has to be avoided in considering what happens on the spur of the moment on the spot and keeping in view normal human reaction and conduct, where self-preservation is the paramount consideration.
But, if the fact situation shows that in the guise of self- preservation, what really has been done is to assault the original aggressor, even after the cause of reasonable apprehension has disappeared, the plea of right of private defence can legitimately be negatived. The court dealing with the plea has to weigh the material to conclude whether the plea is acceptable. It is essentially, as noted above, a finding of fact.”
The following principles emerge on scrutiny of the following judgments:
(i) Self-preservation is the basic human instinct and is duly recognized by the criminal jurisprudence of all civilized countries. All free, democratic and civilized countries recognize the right of private defence within certain reasonable limits.
(ii) The right of private defence is available only to one who is suddenly confronted with the necessity of averting an impending danger and not of self-creation.
(iii) A mere reasonable apprehension is enough to put the right of self-defence into operation. In other words, it is not necessary that there should be an actual commission of the offence in order to give rise to the right of private defence. It is enough if the accused apprehended that such an offence is contemplated and it is likely to be committed if the right of private defence is not exercised.
(iv) The right of private defence commences as soon as a reasonable apprehension arises and it is co- terminus with the duration of such apprehension.
(v) It is unrealistic to expect a person under assault to modulate his defence step by step with any arithmetical exactitude.
(vi) In private defence the force used by the accused ought not to be wholly disproportionate or much greater than necessary for protection of the person or property.
(vii) It is well settled that even if the accused does not plead self-defence, it is open to consider such a plea if the same arises from the material on record.
(viii) The accused need not prove the existence of the right of private defence beyond reasonable doubt.
(ix) The Indian Penal Code confers the right of private defence only when that unlawful or wrongful act is an offence.
(x) A person who is in imminent and reasonable danger of losing his life or limb may in exercise of self defence inflict any harm even extending to death on his assailant either when the assault is attempted or directly threatened.
Darshan Singh vs State Of Punjab & Anr (2010)