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SELF DEFENCE

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WHAT IS SELF-DEFENCE?

Self-defense is the right given by the law to protect one’s own body or someone else’s body or rights of a person from harm. However, self-defence cannot be used for each and every situation, it can only be exercised during the circumstances that are set by law. Section 96 to 106 of the Indian Penal Code deals with the various laws that are relating to self-defence. Section 96 of IPC briefly explains as to what is self-defence, according to this section all acts done in the exercise of private defence falls under the category of self-defence and does not constitute an offence.

WHEN CAN ONE EXERCISE SELF-DEFENCE?

Section 97 of IPC states when a person can exercise self-defence. A person has the right to defend his body and the body of others against any offence affecting the human body, this right also applies in the case of movable and immovable properties, i.e when there is a threat of theft, robbery, mischief, and criminal trespass. But what about circumstances where the offender is a person who is not in his right mind owing to unsoundness of mind or want of maturity or intoxication etc. According to section 98 of IPC, in such a circumstance a person can exercise private defence as though the person causing the harm is of sound mind, thus one does not need to look into the soundness of mind of a person to exercise self-defence.

RESTRICTIONS ON SELF DEFENCE

Self-defence cannot be used for each and every situation, there are certain limitations imposed on the exercise of self-defence under section 99 of IPC, so as to prevent the misuse of this right. If a public servant does an act in good faith in pursuance of the power he holds and the act does not cause grievous hurt or death, then one cannot claim the right of self-defence, the same will also be applicable when a person does an act under the direction of a public servant. The right of self-defence cannot be used as a means to take the law into one’s own hand.  For instance, if A said to B that around 4 pm A would come to beat up B, and B had sufficient time to approach the police but he didn’t, then B cannot claim the immunity of self-defence if he causes harm to A. The right of self-defence cannot be claimed when there is sufficient time to contact the concerned authorities.

HOW TO EXERCISE SELF DEFENCE

A person cannot do anything he wants under the pretext of self-defence. If A punches B then B cannot kill A and say that he did it as an act of self-defence. Any act that is done in self-defence should be done only for the purpose of defending oneself and should not be done to cause harm to the offender.

Sekar v. State [1], in this case, the goat of the accused was detained by the deceased for damaging his crop, the accused got into a fight with the deceased while freeing his goat, the accused further inflicted injury even after the deceased fell down to the ground. The plea of the accused that it was an act of self-defence was rejected by the court as the accused had used more force than what was necessary.

 The extent of the act that can be undertaken as a part of self-defence is also limited by the law, under section 100 of IPC, self-defence can be taken if the act of defence resulted in the death of the offender only in the case of the following offences.

  1. An assault which gives an apprehension that it may result in the causing of death
  2. An assault which gives an apprehension that it may result in the causing of grievous hurt
  3. An assault with the intention to commit rape
  4. An assault with the intention to satisfy unnatural lust
  5. An assault with the intention of kidnapping and abduction
  6. An assault with the intention of wrongfully confining a person
  7. An act of throwing or administrating acid to cause death or grievous hurt

Puran Singh & Ors vs State Of Punjab [2], in this case, the accused and the offenders got into a fight with each other with regards to the ownership of a property. The offenders started firing guns at the accused and the accused inflicted injuries on the offenders using a kirpan which led to the death of an offender. The court ruled that the actions of the accused fell within the boundaries of private defence, as an apprehension of grievous hurt or death formed in the mind of the accused after the offenders started firing their guns.

In case of all other offense, any act of self-defence can be taken but it should not result in the death of the assailant. The right of self-defence can be exercised from the moment an apprehension of death or grievous hurt arises and continues till such an apprehension ceases to exists 

As stated under section 103 of IPC, a person can take the right of private defence which may even result in death, with respect to the protection of his property in the following cases.

  1. Robbery
  2. House breaking by Night
  3. Mischief by lighting fire on houses or buildings used for human dwelling
  4. Theft, mischief or house-trespass, where there is an apprehension in the mind of the person that the assailant wants to commit grievous hurt or death.

Subramani and Others v. State Of T.N. [3], in this case, the offender trespassed into the property of the accused and started damaging the land and the crops. The accused confronted the offenders and a fight broke out, one of the offenders got grossly injured and later succumbed to his injuries, the Supreme Court ruled that the actions of the accused fell under the right of private defence of property and was acquitted of the charges imposed.

In case of theft, mischief, or trespass not falling into the above description, any act of self-defence can be taken but it should not result in the death of the assailant.

There are certain limits set as to the exercise of self-defence with respect to the protection of property. As stated under section 105 of IPC, one can exercise the right of private defence of property only when there is an apprehension of danger against the property. In case of theft, one can exercise the right of private defence until the offender has left the premise or assistance has been obtained from the authorities or till the stolen property has been recovered. However, if it is a robbery then the right of private defence can be exercised as long as the offender causes or there is an apprehension that the offender may cause grievous hurt, death or personal retrain. In the event of criminal trespassing, mischief or house breaking the right of private defence of the property is available till the offender continues to do the act.

One can exercise the right of self-defence even when there is a risk of harming an innocent person. According to section 106 of IPC, if a person has an apprehension that the offender may cause death, then he can exercise private defence even at the cost of harming an innocent person.

 Vadilal Panchal vs Dattatraya Dulaji Ghadigaonker[4], in this case, the car of the accused was surrounded by an angry mob who were pelting stones at the car, in order to make way for the car to move the accused shot his revolver which hit an innocent pedestrian who later succumbed to the injury, the court ruled that the accused did not commit an offence as he shot his revolver as an act of self-defence.

Author(s) Name: Tarul Joseph Thottungal (Kristu Jayanti College of Law)

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Reference(s):

  1. (2002) 8 SCC 354
  2. 1975 AIR 1674, 1975 SCR 299
  3. (2002) SCC (Crl) 1659
  4. 1960 AIR 1113