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Virsa Singh v. State of Punjab : case analysis

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This article has been written by Akanksha Singh. This article is a comprehensive piece of work on the detailed study and analysis of the landmark case of Virsa Singh v. State of Punjab. The article provides an exhaustive understanding of the interpretation and scope of Section 300 of the I.P.C. (I.P.C.), 1860. 

In a criminal case, the element of intention plays a crucial role in determining any criminal liability against the offender. Virsa Singh v. State of Punjab (1958) is a landmark case to study and understand the concept of Intention in cases of murder under Section 300 of the Indian Penal Code, 1860 (hereinafter also called I.P.C.), that is, cases where culpable homicide amounts to murder. The case has been dealt with firstly by the trial court, that is, the court of session, then afterwards by the High Court, and thirdly and lastly by the Supreme Court. The court of trial, the High Court, and the Supreme Court all accepted the argument of the victims side and held that the offence fell under the ambit of Section 300. However, the interpretation of the facts of the case was done by each court in a slightly different manner. The interpretation and elaborate explanation by the apex court of the country on each and every clause of Section 300 of the I.P.C. is an outstanding source to enrich and enhance one’s understanding on the topic of what essentially is required to be proved for a matter to come under the ambit of Section 300. The court specifically talks about the third clause of Section 300, referred to as Section 300 (Thirdly), and gives an in-depth explanation as to what constitutes its essential ingredients. 

The case of Virsa Singh v. State of Punjab is primarily based on a situation where the offender inflicted a certain bodily injury on the victim, due to which the victim subsequently died. In this case, the court dealt with every factual circumstance of the case and put forth a standard principle that can be followed in order to understand the application of Section 300 of the I.P.C.

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This article provides a comprehensive and exhaustive analysis of the case of Virsa Singh v. State of Punjab. The article places importance on comprehensively explaining the development and contemporary scenario regarding the concept of Intention or Mens Rea in a criminal offence. The article talks about the observations made by the courts, that is, the Court of Session, the High Court, and the Supreme Court, at each level of the case. Further, the articles also cover a detailed analysis of the provisions involved in this case and provide readers with an excellent learning experience. 

The essential elements required for an offence to constitute a crime include an offence committed by a human being with the intention of causing such injury to the victim. In ancient times, the idea of criminal justice was primarily based on a retributive system of justice, wherein the focus was on punishing the wrongdoer for the wrong committed. Today, the criminal justice system equally focuses on other forms of justice, such as rehabilitation, in which the focus is on rehabilitating the offender, and restorative justice, where the focus is on restoring the offender and the victim to their original positions as they were before the offence was committed. 

Another element necessary to constitute a criminal offence is the guilty mind of the human being; that is, he must have the intention to commit such a crime. In legal terminology, this element of guilty mind or intent is called Mens Rea. Mens Rea, in other words, means awareness of the fact that a person’s action is blameworthy. This concept is based on the maxim Actus non facit reum nisi mens sit rea. The maxim means that an act alone does not make a person guilty of an offence unless he has an intention to do so. The wrongful intent must be accompanied by a wrongful act. In the absence of a guilty mind, a person cannot be punished for a wrongful act under criminal liability. Once an injury is caused with the intent of causing such injury to the victim by the wrongdoer, the crime is complete. 

Further, the wrongful act must be done voluntarily. This principle is based on the maxim Actus me invito, factus non est mens actus. The maxim literally translates to An act done by me against my will is not my act. It is essential to understand the difference in consequences when there is no element of intention accompanying a wrongful act. For example, if a person inflicts injury on another person under fear or compulsion, then such an act does not constitute a crime. 

The interesting fact about the application of the principle of mens rea in India is that the term Mens Rea has not been used in the I.P.C. anywhere. However, the essence and application of Mens Rea can be found in various provisions of law. Its essence has been expressed by lawmakers by using terms such as dishonestly, knowingly and intentionally, ‘fraudulently’, and voluntarily. Thus, the application of the principle of mens rea has been done in almost every other provision under the I.P.C. The courts further developed the concept of intention and concluded that the element of intention is one of the most crucial ingredients of a criminal offence. 

In the case of Sweat v. Parsley (1968), Lord Diplock said, An act does not make a man guilty of a crime unless his mind is also guilty. The case of R. v. Prince (1875) is an excellent case to understand the importance of Mens Rea in constituting a criminal offence. In this case, Prince Henry took an unmarried girl away with the belief that she had reached the age of 18. Prince Henry was accused of taking away an unmarried girl, who was under the age of 16, without the consent of her father, who is the lawful custodian of the girl. It came out that the girl herself had told the prince that she had attained the age of 18 years. In this case, the court propounded three theories. They are mentioned below:

  • Firstly, mens rea is essential to constitute any crime.
  • Secondly, the entire liability was based on the fact that the accused committed a civil wrong, knowingly, by taking away a minor girl from the lawful custody of her parents.
  • Thirdly, Justice Bram Well said that it was sufficient to establish that the prince had intended to commit an immoral act. The real reason, as has been stated above, for the conviction was that the accused had committed an act that was forbidden by the statute. 

In the case of R. Hariprasada Rao v. State (1951), the apex court of the country held that a person cannot be punished for a criminal offence unless he had a guilty mind at the time of the commission of the offence. The court mentioned that this position of law would be maintained all the time unless a provision of law or a statute clearly rules out the application of mens rea in a particular crime. While our lawmakers and judicial system placed significant importance on the element of mens rea, they also made certain exceptions to the principle of mens rea, which are equally essential to understand in order to have a comprehensive understanding of the topic at hand.

In the case of Emperor v. Raghu Nath Rai (1892), a Hindu man took the calf from a house in Mohammedan to save it from slaughter. However, the Hindu man took away the calf with himself without the consent and knowledge of the members of the Mohammedan house. The court held that the Hindu man was guilty of theft, although he acted with the motive of saving the life of the calf.

In yet another interesting case named Motorola Incorporation v. Union of India (2003), the question that arose before the court was whether a company can be held guilty for deceiving others with an element of Mens Rea. The court said that Section 24 of the I.P.C. says, Whoever does anything with the intention of causing wrongful gain to one person or wrongful loss to another person, is said to do that thing dishonestly. Thus, the court concluded that the term whoever is wide enough to include the company or Association of Persons in it, and any company is equally capable of forming a mens rea as an individual is. Thus, a company must be liable for fraudulently or dishonestly inducing a person deceived by it. 

In a similarly situated case named A.K. Kholsa v. T.S. Venkatesan (1992), the court was to decide upon the question of the existence of mens rea on the part of a corporate body. The court held that two companies, along with other accused, were charged with having committed offences under Sections 420, 467, 471, 477A, and 120B of the I.P.C., and the Magistrate issued proceedings against all the accused. In the Calcutta High Court, it was contended, inter alia, that the said companies, being juristic persons, could not be prosecuted for offences under the I.P.C., where mens rea is an essential ingredient. The High Court upheld the contention and pointed out that there are two tests in respect of the prosecution of corporate bodies. The first being the test of mens rea, and the other is the mandatory sentence of imprisonment. It was held that a company being a corporate body cannot be said to have the necessary mens rea, nor can it be sentenced to imprisonment as it has no physical body. 

Exceptions to the principle of Mens Rea

The Mens Rea, that is, the element of guilty mind’, need not be proved in certain cases. These are listed below:

  • Firstly, in cases where a statute specifically mentions offences not requiring proof of mens rea,. For example, the offence of kidnapping or the offence of waging war against the state. 
  • Secondly, all the offences that are against the welfare of the general public, that is, offences against social welfare, do not require any proof of mens rea, because in such cases, the principle of strict liability applies. For example, offences under the Protection of Civil Rights Act, 1955, or offences under the Prevention of Food Adulteration Act, 1954. 
  • Thirdly, all offences concerning contempt of court, public nuisance, or private libel. 
  • Fourthly, all the cases where the proceedings are conducted are criminal in form, but it is only a summary system of enforcing a civil right. 

Landmark cases on Mens Rea

In the case of Subhash Shamrao Pachunde v. State of Maharashtra (2005), the Supreme Court held that the existence of all four essential elements of the mens rea, in the presence of any of which a lesser offence becomes greater, is important in establishing whether an offence falls under the ambit of culpable homicide or murder. 

In the case of Prabhat Kumar Singh v. State of Bihar (2021), the court held that in cases of medical negligence, the element of mens rea does not come into play as the principle of strict liability applies, and thus the element of intent is not relevant in cases of medical negligence. 

In the case of M. Arjunan v. State (represented by its Inspector of Police) (2018), the criminal case was filed under Section 306 of the I.P.C., which is, Abetment of Suicide. The Supreme Court laid down certain essential ingredients to be followed in order to constitute a criminal offence of abetment to suicide under Section 306, I.P.C. One of the essential ingredients talks about the necessity of an intention on the part of the accused to instigate, aid, or abet the deceased to commit suicide. 

In a very recent case of Atul Kumar v. State of Delhi and Anr (2021), the High Court of Delhi held that the mens rea, or the intention on the part of the husband, was missing in order to establish an abetment of suicide by the husband. The court said, It cannot be said that the petitioner had abetted or instigated the deceased to commit suicide; the deceased was left with no option but to commit suicide. This court is of the opinion that the necessary ingredients of the offence punishable under Section 306 of the I.P.C. are not made out against the petitioner (husband), and the impugned order by the learned Additional Sessions Judge (ASJ) directing the trial court to proceed with the matter is set aside.. 

Once we have understood this, lets dive deep into analysing this case, keeping the concept of Mens Rea in mind. 

  • Case name: Virsa Singh v. State of Punjab
  • Case No: 90 of 1957
  • Equivalent Citations: 1958 AIR SC 465
  • Act involved: I.P.C.
  • Important provisions: Section 300 of the I.P.C.
  • Court: Supreme Court
  • Bench: P.B. Gajendragadkar, Syed Jaffer Imam, and Vivian Bose, J.
  • Petitioner/Appellant: Virsa Singh
  • Respondents: State of Punjab
  • Judgement Date: March 11, 1958
  • Held: Appeal Dismissed

Around 8 p.m. on the night of July 13, 1955, the accused, one Virsa Singh, thrust a spear into the abdomen of the victim, Khem Singh. On the following day, around 5 p.m., the injured Khem Singh died. The doctor was of the opinion that the injury was of such nature that it was sufficient to cause death in the ordinary course of nature. The appellant, Virsa Singh, was tried along with five other accused under Section 302, Section 323, and Section 324, read with Section 149 of the I.P.C. The appellant, however, was charged individually under Section 302 of the I.P.C. The trial court acquitted the five other accused of the charges of murder and convicted all of them under Section 323, Section 324, and Section 326, read with Section 149, of the I.P.C. However, all five accused were acquitted of all the charges by the High Court on an appeal. The trial court convicted the appellant, Virsa Singh, under Section 302. On an appeal to the High Court, the High Court upheld his conviction as well as the sentence.

Procedural history

The accused, one Virsa Singh, was convicted by the trial court for the offence of murder under Section 302 of the I.P.C. The High Court of Punjab and Haryana upheld the conviction and sentence against Virsa Singh, and thus, the matter was brought before the Supreme Court under a grant of special appeal. The Supreme Court, however, specified that the special leave to appeal granted to the appellant, Virsa Singh, is limited to the question of establishing the offence made against the petitioner under the facts and circumstances of the case. 

Medical report

The medical report confirmed that the injury to the body of the deceased victim, Khem Singh, was due to the thrust of a spear into his abdominal region. While Khem Singh was alive, the doctors performed a medical examination. This medical examination mentioned that the injury was a punctured wound transverse in direction on the left side of the abdominal wall in the lower part of the iliac region, just above the inguinal canal. The report also described his condition, and the doctor, in this regard, mentioned that there were three coils of intestines that were coming out of the wound. The postmortem reports, after the victim, Khem Singh, died, described the injury as an oblique incised stitched wound on the lower part of the left side of the belly, above the left inguinal ligament. The medical reports, including the postmortem report, also mentioned that the injury covered the entire thickness of the abdominal wall, containing digested food. A condition called peritonitis was also present in the abdominal region. The report also mentioned the existence of flakes of pus around the small intestine of the victim. The report said that there were six cuts at various places, and the digested food was flowing out of three of the cuts. Hence, after considering all the medical reports, the doctor said that the injury was sufficient in nature to cause death in the ordinary course of nature. 

The question that came before the Supreme Court was limited to the extent of determining what offence is made out as having been committed by the petitioner or appellant. In determining the offence, the court gave an elaborate interpretation and explanation of Section 300 (Thirdly). It also gave a distinctive explanation for all the subsections of Section 300 of the I.P.C. The court categorically put forth the essential ingredients for the systematic application of this provision of the I.P.C., which has now become the Locus Classicus in a similarly situated case. The secondary question that was raised before the court was whether Section 300 (thirdly) would be applicable in this case. There were other incidental questions before the court as well, such as whether the offence is murder or a culpable homicide not amounting to murder, considering the facts and circumstances of the case. Another incidental question before the court was whether the death caused by inflicting a bodily injury on the body of the victim was accidental or unintentional, and whether there was an intent on the part of the offender to cause the death of the victim or not. 

Essential Ingredients laid down by the Supreme Court in this case for the application of Section 300 of I.P.C.

The Court classified the elements into four broad categories. They are mentioned in the third paragraph of the judgement as follows:

  • Firstly, the court said that there must be a bodily injury. The inquiry for the determination of the presence of the bodily injury is purely objective in nature, and it is based on the facts of the case. This can be clearly inferred from the facts of any particular case. 
  • Secondly, the court further mentioned that there must be proof as to the nature of the injury. It means that it is necessary to see which part of the body the injury was inflicted on, that is, whether it is a vital part of the body or not. For example, it is necessary to see if the injury is inflicted on a vital organ, such as the heart, or any other part of the body, such as the thigh or leg, for that matter. The court further mentioned taking into consideration the seriousness of the injury caused, that is, to see how deep the inflicted injury is, while also taking into consideration other fact based injury and postmortem reports. 
  • Thirdly, the court said that such an injury must not be accidental or unintentional. This indicates that the injury so inflicted and present on the body of the victim must be an intentional injury, intended to be inflicted on that particular part of the body and not otherwise. For example, an individual wanted to cause grievous hurt to another person in his arms. However, if the injury that was intended to be caused on the arms was unfortunately caused on the heart of the person and not the arms, then in such a situation, Section 300 (thirdly) cannot be applied and the accused cannot be charged under this Section. This is because the establishment of an intent to inflict a particular injury is crucial for Section 300 (thirdly) to be applicable. In the aforementioned example, the intention could not be established as the accused individual did not intend to cause such bodily harm or injury to that person. Thus, the injury actually inflicted was not the intended one, and hence, it was unintentional or accidental in nature. The court further specified on this point that the inquiry regarding intention to cause such bodily injury is subjective in nature, differs from case to case, and thus requires attention in each case based on its facts and circumstances. 
  • Fourthly, the question as to the death being caused in the ordinary course of nature is again an inquiry that is objective in nature, and it needs to be inferred from the established facts of the case and has no relation to the element of intent.  

The arguments advanced in this case were primarily based on two things. They are mentioned below:

  • Firstly, whether the appellant has the intention to cause such bodily injury or not. 
  • Secondly, whether such an inflicted bodily injury is sufficient to cause the death of a person in the ordinary course of nature. 

The petitioner/appellant argued that the offence of murder is not established under the given facts and circumstances of the case, as the prosecution has been unable to prove the element of intention. The prosecution has not proved that there was an intention to inflict a bodily injury and that such bodily injury was sufficient to cause the death of a person in the ordinary course of nature. The appellant quotes Section 300 (thirdly) as follows:

If it is done with the intention of causing bodily injury to any person and the bodily injury intended to be inflicted is sufficient in the ordinary course of nature to cause death.

The appellant had, further, put forth an argument stating that Section 300 (thirdly) requires the Intention of the person inflicting the injury to be related, not only to the bodily injury that has been inflicted but also to the rest of the clause, that is, and the bodily injury intended to be inflicted is sufficient in the ordinary course of nature to cause death.” The appellant referred the court to the case of Lord Goddard in R v. Steane (1947) and argued that the judgement of the aforementioned case states that the particular intention that is being laid and charged against the accused must also be proved. The appellant relied on the following passage from the judgement and quoted:

If, on the totality of the evidence, there is room for more than one view as to the intent of the prisoner, the injury should be directed that it is for the prosecution to prove the intent to the jurys satisfaction, and if, on a review of the whole evidence, they either think that the intent did not exist or they are left in doubt as to the intent, the prisoner is entitled to be acquitted

The appellant further referred to the case of Emperor v. Sardarkhan Jaridkhan (1916) and quoted a passage from its judgement:

Where death is caused by a single blow, it is always much more difficult to be absolutely certain what degree of bodily injury the offender intended.

The Session Court held that the case falls within the ambit of Section 300 (thirdly) and stated that when the common object of the assembly seems to have been to cause grievous hurts only, I do not suppose Virsa Singh actually had the intention to cause the death of Khem Singh, but by a rash and silly act he gave a rather forceful blow, which ultimately caused his death. Peritonitis also supervened, and that hastened the death of Khem Singh. But for that, Khem Singh may perhaps not have died or may have lived a little longer. 

The High Court took a slightly different stance on interpreting the facts of the case and said that the entire incident occurred suddenly at a chance meeting. However, at the same time, the court accepted the findings of the medical report and postmortem report. Based on it, the court also agreed to the fact that the injury was inflicted by the appellant on the victim and thus upheld the conviction and sentence given by the court of session. 

The Supreme Court listed out all the primary arguments put forth by the appellant and made the decision by giving reasoning against all the arguments. The apex court started by considering the argument raised by the appellant that the facts of the case do not suggest an offence of murder, as the prosecution has not proved the element of intention on the part of the appellant to inflict a bodily injury, and such bodily injury must be sufficient to cause death in the ordinary course of nature. The appellant argued that there must not only be the existence of a bodily injury, but the bodily injury inflicted must also be intended to be inflicted, and the inflicted injury must be sufficient in the ordinary course of nature to cause death. Further, the appellant argued that all these clauses are to be related to each other in order to arrive at a decision. 

However, the Supreme Court observed that the aforementioned argument is one of the favourite arguments put forth by the counsels in this kind of case, but it is erroneous and does not hold any merit. The Supreme Court stated that in cases of an intention to inflict an injury that is sufficient to cause death in the ordinary course of nature, Section 300 (thirdly) would be unnecessary to apply, and rather the first part of the section would apply. The court quoted the first part of the section as If the act by which the death is caused is done with the intention of causing death and thus said that it would apply to the present case. 

Difference between the first part and the third part of Section 300 of the I.P.C.

The court, further clarifying its stance, said that the two clauses, that is, the first part and the third part of Section 300 of the I.P.C., are distinctive in nature and can be interpreted separately. They elaborately discussed the distinction and said that the first part of Section 300 is subjective to the offender of the offence. 

The first part says, If it is done with the intention of causing bodily injury to any person, Thus, firstly, it must be established that the bodily injury was caused. Secondly, the nature of such bodily injury must be determined, so it is important to establish whether the injury inflicted is on a vital organ or any other part of the body. By vital organ, it means any sensitive organ, such as the heart or the brain. The court stated that these conditions are purely fact-based and need to be considered on a case by case basis. Furthermore, the court said that the question of intention is subjective in nature to each offender, and so it becomes necessary to prove that the inflicted bodily injury that is present on the body of the victim is the one that the offender actually intended to inflict. Before the inquiry shifts to the next part, these two clauses must be determined. Now, once these are determined, the next clause, that is, and the bodily injury intended to be inflicted is sufficient in the ordinary course of nature to cause death. The court explained the relationship among the clauses as meaning that if it can be shown that the intention to inflict an injury was not on the body part that actually has the injury, then the intention to inflict injury in that region would not be established. 

For example, if the circumstances justify that Mr. A wanted to inflict a bodily injury on the left arm of Mr. B with a lesser blow but unfortunately ended up hitting Mr. B on his left side of the heart, then in such a case, the intention to cause such bodily injury would not be proved. 

Thus, the most important factor to consider is the intention to cause the bodily injury that has been actually present on the body of the victim. Once this question is established, the question of whether the bodily injury that is present on the body of the victim and was actually intended to be caused is, in the ordinary course of nature, sufficient enough to cause death is to be enquired. This question, however, has to be dealt with based on the facts and circumstances of the case and has no relation to the intention of the offender. Thus, the third part of the section only comes into picture when the first and second parts of the section have been established, that is, whether there was an intention to cause such bodily harm that is actually present on the body of the victim. Establishing this question, which comes under the first part of the section, is of prime importance. Once the existence of this part is established, the third part of the section is to be examined. The role of the third part of Section 300 does not come into picture until the existence of the first part and the second part of the section are established. 

Approach to judicial inquiry 

Although the Supreme Court in its observation stressed the point of considering whether the offender had the intention to inflict injury on that particular part of the body on which the injury is actually present, the court clearly mentions that it is not essential to look into each and every last detail of the facts in relation to the intention of the offender. 

For example, in the present case, it is not necessary to inquire whether the accused had the intention to penetrate the intestine of the victim and have the bowels fall out. This is because if such an approach were followed, then a man with no or negligible knowledge of the anatomy would escape the process of trial and can never be convicted, because if he does not know as a matter of fact that there is a heart, a liver, an intestine, a brain, or a kidney in a particular region of the body, then he cannot be said to have an intention to cause such bodily harm or injure the victim in such a manner. Thus, the court said that this is clearly not the kind of approach that the court wants in these kinds of cases. The court emphasised that the approach of inquiry should be such that any reasonable prudent man would understand and appreciate. 

The Supreme Court categorically classified that the burden of proof lies on the prosecution to prove the following things before any case can be said to be coming under the provisions of Section 300 (thirdly):

  • At the primary level, before bringing a case under Section 300 (thirdly), it must objectively establish the presence of any bodily injury. 
  • After establishing that, there must be proof with respect to the nature of the injury, which is again an objective inquiry. 
  • After establishing the above, the prosecution must prove that the inflicted injury was not unintentional or accidental; that is, the injury present on the body of the victim is actually the injury that the accused intends to inflict. The inquiry would essentially proceed further only after these three ingredients are established. 
  • At last, the inquiry consisting of all the three elements being established is sufficient to cause death in the ordinary course of nature. The fourth part of the inquiry is purely fact-based, inferential, and objective in nature. The fourth element of the inquiry has nothing to do with the intention of the accused. Once all four elements are established by the prosecution throughout, then the offence of murder would be said to have been made under Section 300 (thirdly) and not otherwise. 

The Supreme Court further made its position clear on the point of intention of the offender. The court said the intention to cause death, the intention not to cause death, or the offender not having knowledge that an act of such kind would likely cause death does not matter at all and is completely irrelevant. The relevancy is only due to the fact that once the intention to cause a bodily injury that has actually been found to be present on the body of the victim is proven, the rest of the investigation and inquiry remain purely inferential and objective in nature. Justice V. Bose said, No one has a licence to run around inflicting injuries that are sufficient to cause death in the ordinary course of nature and claim that they are not guilty of murder. If they inflict injuries of that kind, they must face the consequences, and they can only escape if it can be shown or reasonably deduced that the injury was accidental or otherwise unintentional.

The court, while delivering the judgement, also refuted the argument of the appellant that the judgement of the Lord Goddard in R v. Steane (1947) case says that the particular intention that is being laid and charged against the accused must also be proved. In response to this argument, the court said there must be satisfactory evidence or explanation provided before the court as to why such an act was done by the accused. The Honble Supreme Court quoted a few sentences from the same judgement as mentioned by the appellant and mentioned it as follows:

No doubt, if the prosecution proves an act the natural consequences of which would be a certain result and no evidence or explanation is given, then a jury may, in a proper direction, find that the prisoner is guilty of doing the act with the intent alleged. 

The court here maintained the same stance and said that there has not been any explanation given before the court as to why the appellant thrust a spear into the abdomen of the deceased respondent with such intensity and force that it penetrated the bowels of the victim, and the grave wound led to three coils of the intestines coming out and digested food oozing out from such cuts from three places out of six cuts. The court strictly maintained that it would be illogical and unreasonable to conclude that the offender did not intend to cause the injury that he did, in the absence of any evidence or explanation indicating that the offender did not intend to cause such bodily injury as is present on the body of the victim or that the injury caused was unintentional or accidental. 

Furthermore, the court also refuted the argument of the appellant, stating that in cases of death due to a single blow, it is difficult to ascertain the degree of bodily injury that the offender intended to actually inflict. The appellant made this argument relying on the case of Emperor v. Sardarkhan Jaridkhan (1916).  The court said, with due respect to the judgement in this case, that the intention of the offender that needs to be established subjectively has been linked with the seriousness of the injury, which needs to be enquired purely on an objective and inferential basis from the facts and circumstances of the case. The court said, The question is not whether the prisoner intended to inflict a serious injury or a trivial one, but whether he intended to inflict the injury that is proven to be present. If he can show that he did not, or if the totality of the circumstances justify such an inference, then, of course, the intent that the Section requires is not proved. But if there is nothing beyond the injury and the fact that the appellant inflicted it, the only possible inference is that he intended to inflict it. 

The court further said that in such a situation, the knowledge of the seriousness or the intended seriousness of the action is immaterial. The only question, as far as the determination of intention on the part of the offender is concerned, is whether he intended to inflict the injury in question, and if that gets established, the court will presume the intention to cause such bodily injury unless the contrary is proved with the help of factual or circumstantial evidence. 

The Supreme Court, after hearing the parties and giving an elaborate explanation as to the essential elements regarding Section 300 (thirdly) and specifically relating them to the case at hand, dismissed the appeal on the ground that the offence of murder under Section 300 (thirdly) of the I.P.C. is made out based on the facts and circumstances of the case and taking into consideration the relevant provisions of law. 

The court here made a very crucial difference and said that the intention that is to be established here in such cases is not a question of law but a question of fact. The court said that the question of seriousness of injury is totally distinct from the question of intention to inflict the injury in question. However, the court also said that it is natural to link the seriousness of the injury with intention. 

For example, if the totality of the circumstances justify or if it can be proved that the offender had only intended a superficial injury such as a scratch on the face and that while doing so, his victim stumbled upon a rock and fell,which led to serious injuries in the brain, then the offence of murder would not be made. The court further explained that the case of murder is not made out in the aforementioned example because the offender did not intend to inflict the injury that was actually inflicted on the victim; rather, it is not murder because the offender did not intend to cause such bodily injury at all and his intention was to inflict a totally different injury. 

Further, the court said that the difference here is of fact and not of law, and thus, the conclusion should be, in a certain way, a matter of proof, taking into consideration all the necessary evidence and drawing all the reasonable inferences from facts in the absence of any direct testimony. 

The following sections are involved in this case:

However, out of all the sections involved in the case, the courts primarily dealt with Section 300 throughout the court proceedings at different levels, that is, trial court, high court, and supreme court. 

Section 300 of the IPC, 1860

The Supreme Court of India gave a detailed explanation and interpretation of Section 300. Section 300, as given under the I.P.C., is Except in the cases hereinafter expected, culpable homicide is murder if the act by which death is caused is done:

  • Firstly, with the intention of causing death,
  • Secondly, with the intention of causing such bodily injury as the offender known to be likely to cause the death of the person to whom the harm is caused,
  • Thirdly, with the intention of causing bodily injury to any person, and the bodily injury intended to be inflicted is sufficient in the ordinary course of nature to cause death; 
  • Fourthly, with the knowledge that the act is so imminently dangerous that it must in all probability cause death, or such bodily injury as is likely to cause death.

The essence of this section lies more in terms of the knowledge that a bodily injury that is intended to be inflicted is likely to cause death and is sufficient to cause death in the ordinary course of nature. The section emphasises the usage of the term likely which means the chances of something happening are greater than its not happening. Section 300 (thirdly) is very much dependent on the degree of likelihood of the occurrence of death as a result of the injury. Clause (4) of Section 300 primarily places its focus not on the intention of the offender but on the mere knowledge that a certain act is likely to cause death.  

Section 302 of the IPC, 1860

Section 302 of the I.P.C. provides for the punishment for the offence of murder. Section 302 reads, Whoever commits murder shall be punished with death or imprisonment for life and shall also be liable to a fine.

Here, it is at the discretion of the court to award appropriate punishment from the two available alternatives in cases of murder. However, the court itself laid down certain principles for the application of this discretion. In the case of Bachan Singh v. State of Punjab (1980), the court held that the punishment of the death penalty as an alternative to imprisonment is not unreasonable. The court also mentioned that it is not against the public interest either. At the same time, the court laid down principles to be followed while awarding punishment under Section 302 of the I.P.C.

  • Firstly, except in the gravest cases, the extreme penalty of death need not be inflicted. 
  • Secondly, the circumstances of the offender are also needed to be taken into consideration along with the facts and circumstances of the crime before awarding the death penalty. 
  • Thirdly, a balance must be struck between the mitigating factors and the aggravating factors, and full weightage must be given to the mitigating factors available in given circumstances before opting for any one of the punishments provided under Section 302 of the I.P.C.
  • Fourthly, the court specified that life imprisonment is the rule and the death penalty is an exception. This means that the punishment of a death sentence must only be opted for when the punishment of life imprisonment seems like a completely insufficient form of punishment based on the circumstances of the offender and the crime. 

One of the best examples of this principle can be found in the case of Rameshbhai Chandubhai Rathod v. State of Gujarat (2007), in which the appellant made an extra-judicial confession about him raping and killing the child. The court confirmed the death penalty and dismissed the appeal, considering it to be the rarest of the rare cases. The court reasoned that the deceased was a helpless child of ten years old, and the accused, being a watchman in the building, was in a position of trust, and as the murder and rape were brutal, the death sentence was the only adequate one. At the same time, the gravity of the offence, the behaviour of the appellant, and the fear and concern such incidents generate in an ordered society cannot be ignored. Thus, the apex court confirmed the death sentence in place of life imprisonment.   

Section 323 of the IPC, 1860

Section 323, I.P.C., talks about the punishment for Voluntarily Causing Hurt. It is read as Whoever voluntarily causes hurt to any person shall be punished with imprisonment, which may extend to one year, or a fine of one thousand rupees, or both. The section also mentions that this punishment can be increased if the hurt is caused by any corrosive substance, any alkali or acid, any explosive substance, any poison, or by way of a heated substance or fire. For this punishment to be applicable, there are certain essential ingredients that must exist. They are given below:

  • Firstly, the hurt is caused voluntarily by the offender to the victim.
  • Secondly, the hurt so caused must not be life-threatening or grave.
  • Thirdly, the hurt must not have been committed in exercising the right to private defence or in the heat of the moment. 

Once all these elements are established, an offender can be punished under the ambit of Section 323, I.P.C. However, the court, based on the circumstances of the case, determines the exact punishment to be awarded to an offender. In order for an offender to get acquitted under this section, he or she must prove before the court that the prosecution has failed to prove one or more essentials of the offence beyond any reasonable doubt. 

In the case of Shanti Lal Meena v. State of Rajasthan (2015), the court highlighted that there must be bodily harm for any hurt to come under the ambit of Section 323, I.P.C. In this particular case, the Supreme Court said that a mere slapping, in the absence of causing any physical injury, would not amount to any offence under the provisions of Section 323. However, the elements of this section are to be interpreted on a case to case basis. 

Section 324 of the IPC, 1860

This Section provides punishment for causing hurt voluntarily by dangerous weapons or means and reads as Whoever except in the case provided for by Section 334 (that is, causing voluntarily hurt by provocation) causes hurt by means of any instrument for shooting, stabbing or cutting, or any instrument which, used as a weapon of offence, is likely to cause death or by means of fire or any heated substance or by means of any poison of any corrosive substance, or by means of any explosive substance, or by means of any substance which it is deleterious to human body to inhale, to swallow, or to receive into the blood, or by means of any animal, shall be punished with imprisonment for life, or with imprisonment of either description for a term which may extend to three years, and shall also be liable to fine or with both.

The distinction between Section 324 and Section 326 is the fact that Section 324 of the I.P.C. talks about causing hurt voluntarily while Section 326 of the I.P.C. talks about causing grievous hurt voluntarily. This leads to a difference in punishment provided under Section 324 and Section 326. Thus, in a particular case, it is important to establish whether the injury inflicted is merely a hurt or whether it comes under the meaning of grievous hurt as per the provisions of law. This difference is necessary to establish for the purpose of determining the necessary punishment that can be awarded for a particular offence concerning any such act.

Section 326 of the IPC, 1860

This section provides punishment for causing grievous hurt voluntarily by dangerous weapons or means and reads as Whoever except in the case provided for by Section 335 (that is, voluntarily causing grievous hurt by provocation) causes grievous hurt by means of any instrument for shooting, stabbing or cutting, or any instrument which, used as a weapon of offence, is likely to cause death or by means of fire or any heated substance or by means of any poison of any corrosive substance, or by means of any explosive substance, or by means of any substance which it is deleterious to human body to inhale, to swallow, or to receive into the blood, or by means of any animal, shall be punished with imprisonment for life, or with imprisonment of either description for a term which may extend to ten years, and shall also be liable to fine. 

In this section, the focus has been given on the term grievous hurt. The offence of grievous hurt has been provided under Section 320 of the I.P.C., 1860. This section has specified what hurt falls under the category of Grievous Hurt. They are:

  • Firstly, emasculation
  • Secondly, privation of any member or joint
  • Thirdly, permanent privation of the sight of either eye
  • Fourthly, destruction or permanent impairment of the powers of any members or joint.
  • Fifthly, permanent privation of the hearing of either ear.
  • Sixthly, any hurt which causes the victim to suffer severe bodily pain during the space of twenty days, or the victim is unable to follow his ordinary pursuits, or any hurt endangering the life of the victim.

Now, it is important to understand the essential elements that need to exist for an offence to fall under the ambit of Section 326. They are as follows:

  • There must be a hurt caused voluntarily by the offender.
  • The hurt so caused must be grievous in nature.
  • Such grievous hurt must have been caused by the use of any dangerous weapon or such means.

However, the application of these depends more on the facts and circumstances of each case; that is, it shall be determined on a case to case basis whether any weapon is dangerous or not. 

Section 149 of the IPC, 1860

This section provides for offences committed by the members of an unlawful assembly. The section says that every person who was part of the unlawful assembly at the time of the commission of the crime and who had the knowledge that such an act was likely to be committed in furtherance of a common object is considered guilty of that offence committed by the unlawful assembly of people. 

This section requires the existence of the following essential elements:

  • Firstly, there must be the existence of an unlawful assembly.
  • Secondly, there must be an offence committed by any member of the unlawful assembly.
  • Thirdly, the offence, so committed, must be in furtherance of the common objective of the unlawful assembly. 

Once these elements are established, the offender can be identified under Section 149 of the I.P.C.

In the case of Parshuram v. State of Madhya Pradesh (2021), the Supreme Court held that it is not necessary that every member of an unlawful assembly play an overt and active role in the offence under Section 149 of the I.P.C. The court observed that it is not necessary to establish before the court that a person of an unlawful assembly committed an overt act or was actively part of the unlawful assembly, that is to say, the Section does not require that the offence must have been committed personally by every member of the offence or by the offender under trial for an offence to be made under Section 149 of the I.P.C. The court cited the case of Masalti v. State of Uttar Pradesh (1965) for providing a better understanding. 

These were the sections involved in the case of Virsa Singh v. State of Punjab as the act was committed by the members of an unlawful assembly. However, the appellant was exclusively charged under Section 300 (thirdly) after the incident.

As a whole, Virsa Singh v. State of Punjab acts as a landmark judgement in order to understand Section 300 of the I.P.C. In addition to Section 300, the case covers Section 302, Section 323, Section 324, Section 326, and Section 149 of the I.P.C. The court dealt with the question of determining what offence was being made out in this case. The question before the court was to establish the guilt of the appellant, wherein there was an unlawful assembly and all the other accused were acquitted. The court laid down essential ingredients for an offence to fall under the ambit of Section 300. The court applied Section 300 of the I.P.C., that is, culpable homicide not amounting to murder, because, as per the facts of the case, the common intention of the unlawful assembly was not to cause the death of the victim but was only to injure him. However, the court upheld the conviction of the appellant under Section 300 of the I.P.C. The case becomes important in order to understand the concept of intention in any case involving criminal liability. In Indian criminal jurisprudence, the weight given to the element of Intention has been given significantly as a wrongful act; without any criminal intention, that is, without a guilty mind, it is not considered a crime, as a general rule. 

Apart from understanding the element of intention, this case is a landmark judgement in understanding the fundamental concepts with respect to murder and culpable homicide. The court interpreted Section 300 by giving detailed considerations to each of its clauses, which, as a result, helped expand the scope of the concept of intention in criminal offences. 

On one hand, while the first clause of Section 300 requires a clear and evident intention to cause the death of the victim, the second clause, on the other hand, does not require a clear intention to show the offence of murder; rather, it only requires the existence of an intention to inflict such bodily injury that, in the ordinary course of nature, is sufficient to cause death. In this way, the court has ensured that an offender does not get away with causing somebodys death voluntarily, even if the offender had the slightest intention to cause any such bodily injury that is, in fact, in the ordinary course of nature, likely to cause death. For the application of all the clauses, the court has clearly specified criteria and considerations that are required to be kept in mind during the entire process of judicial inquiry. However, it has been noticed in the judicial proceedings that, in some of the cases, the practical implementation of the distinction between the two clauses was blurred. 

In the case of Tan Joo Cheng v. P.P. (1992), the court of criminal appeal held the accused guilty under Section 300 by deviating from the Virsa Singh v. State of Punjab as the offender did not have the intention to inflict injury that, in the ordinary course of nature, would cause the death of the victim. In the comprehensive study of the case, it can be safely inferred that, with due respect to the understanding of the learned trial court, it wrongly interpreted the third clause of Section 300 at one point of the trial proceedings, or rather, it would be apt to say that the court did not lay down a better perspective on how the distinction can be laid down in a manner that can be followed uniformly to a certain extent, as a part of a general principle. The court of session had observed that the accused, Virsa Singh, is not liable for murder as per the provisions of Section 300. It further said that the accused is liable for culpable homicide, not murder. However, this interpretation was corrected and expanded by the Supreme Court by laying down a four-pointer test to determine whether an offender of such facts and circumstances falls under the ambit of Section 300 or not. As a result, the judgement of Virsa Singh v. State of Punjab became a decision to be best known or the most authoritative piece of source on the subject of Section 300, I.P.C. and understanding the concept, interpretation, explanation, and scope of the element of Intention in a criminal offence. 

What is the principle of criminal liability in India?

The principle of criminal liability in India involves the elements of Mens Rea (guilty mind) and Actus Rea (an act in furtherance of such wrongful intention). Mens rea shall extend to all the parts of the act, such as the physical doing or not doing, the consequences of such physical doing or not doing, and the circumstances surrounding it. 

What is the difference between intention and motive?

Motive is something that makes an offender have an intention. However, on the other hand, every crime constitutes an element of intention. Intention is a clear objective that one has in mind and conducts his or her action in furtherance of the completion of such intention. 

What is the difference between Mens Rea and Actus Reus? 

Mens Rea is the guilty mind, the absence of which negates the conditions of crime. It forms one of the most significant ingredients in criminal liability, and a wrongful act becomes a criminal offence only when there is a guilty mind behind such an act. On the other hand, Actus Reus mens the guilty act, that is, a physical act in furtherance of committing an offence. 

Is Section 300, I.P.C., bailable?

Section 300, I.P.C., is a non-bailable offence; that is, bail cannot be sought by a prisoner as a matter of right. As a matter of general rule in Indian criminal laws, bail is a rule and jail is an expectation for many of the criminal offences. This provision of law is in consonance with the fundamental rights provided under Article 21 of the Constitution, namely the Right to Life and protection of personal liberty for all citizens of India. 

What is a non-bailable warrant? 

An NBW, or non-bailable warrant, is a kind of arrest warrant, that is, one issued by any appropriate court in circumstances where the court finds that the offender has been accused of serious charges, and releasing such an offender on bail would invite the risk of fleeing away from the offender or tampering with the evidence by the offender.  

Which section of the I.P.C. provides for the issue of a warrant?

Under the code of criminal procedure, which is the procedural act of the criminal law in India, Section 73 provides for the issue of a non-bailable warrant by the chief judicial magistrate or a magistrate of the first class within the local jurisdiction of such chief judicial magistrate or a magistrate of the first class for the arrest of any person accused of a non-bailable offence, whether an escaped convict or a proclaimed offender. The court has specified on multiple occasions that the use of NBW or the non-bailable offence must be done with proper consideration of the circumstances of a given case, and valid reasons shall be given before the issuance of such a non-bailable warrant.     

What is the difference between a bailable and a non-bailable offence?

A bailable offence is a civil or criminal offence in which seeking bail is a matter of the right of the party. A court grants bail to the accused upon completion of certain conditions. A grant of bail, however, in no way means that the offender is discharged of all charges. For bailable offences, bail can be granted anytime during the trial process or even at the time of the arrest. Bailable offences are less serious in nature, such as petty theft, traffic violations, minors, assault, etc. A non-bailable offence involves more serious offences such as murder, rape, drug trafficking, terrorism, etc.

What is the difference between culpable homicide and murder? 

There is a thin line between culpable homicide and murder, yet the difference is very significant. A bodily injury becomes murder if it is done with the clear intention of causing the death of the victim. On the other hand, a bodily injury is culpable homicide if it is done with an intention to cause such bodily injury that is likely to cause the death of the victim. In other words, murder involves the premeditated killing of any person. Therefore, the element of intention becomes crucial in determining whether an offence is made under the provisions of culpable homicide or murder. 

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