Accident and Necessity

By | January 4, 2020
Accident and Necessity

Last Updated :

Accident and Necessity | Overview

The article discusses the Accident and Necessity. Some people are immune from the criminal law operation. Chapter IV of the IPC, entitled ‘General Exceptions,’ which contains sections 76 to 106, exempts certain citizens from criminal liability. Acts done by accident or misfortune or because of necessity are justifiable acts and ultimately exempt an individual from criminal liability.

I. Introduction to Section 80

Section 80 of the Indian Penal Code, 1860: Accident in doing a lawful act – Nothing is an offence which is done by accident or misfortune, and without any criminal intention or knowledge in the doing of a lawful act in a lawful manner by lawful means and with proper care and caution.

Illustration

A is at work with a hatchet; the head flies off and kills a man who is standing by. Here, if there was no want of proper caution on the part of A, his act is excusable and not an offence.”

II. Nature & Scope of Section 80 IPC, 1860

Section 80 exempts a person from liability if the act is committed unintentionally, by mistake, without any criminal purpose or understanding and the accident occurs while performing a lawful act in a legal manner and by legal means in which proper care and prudence are exercised. It exempts the perpetrator from any unforeseen result that may arise from an accident of an innocent or lawful act in an innocent and lawful manner.

The essential ingredients for an act or misfortune to operate as a mitigating factor are:

  1. The act was a pure accident or misfortune,
  2. It was not caused by any criminal intention or knowledge,
  3. It was the consequence of lawful actions carried out by lawful means,
  4. It was carried out with due care and caution.

1. The act was an Accident or Misfortune

An essential requirement in order to bring an act within the meaning of the term ‘ accident’ used in s 80 is that the event must be one to which human responsibility does not make a contribution. It’s not just an occasion.

It means an accidental, unforeseen act. It implies the idea of something that was not only unintended but so little expected that it came as a surprise. The incident is not intentional or reckless. It’s something from the usual course of things that occurs.

An outcome is said to be unintentional if the act by which it is induced is not performed with the intention of causing it, and if its incidence as a consequence of such act is not so possible that a person of ordinary prudence would take reasonable care against it in the circumstances in which it is done.

The word ‘ misfortune ‘ is the same as an accident and it is as unwanted as unexpected. It’s just an incident with bad consequences as a result.  Accident and misfortune thus mean not only the occurrence of an unintentional or unexpected incident but also that these unintended or unexpected events have caused injury to another.

2. The Accident was not caused by any criminal intention or knowledge

The establishment of the act without any “criminal intention or knowledge” is essential. This must be with no mens rea or guilty mind, in other words. An act which the doer intended or knew could obviously not have been an accident. The section also includes injuries caused by gaming and sports events.

In State Government of Madhya Pradesh v. Rangaswamy [2], the respondent shot at a point 152 feet away. He found himself shot at a human being to his horror. The defendant argued that he had the bona fide belief that the shot target was a hyena he had seen the day before.

It was raining at the time of the shooting, so he didn’t expect a man to be present at the spot in question. The act of causing death was considered to be purely an accident and the accused was protected under section 80.

In Girish Saikia v. State of Assam[3], in the night he was asleep, the accused was attacked by his brother. The brother tried to strangulate the suspect and hit him. The brothers began to scuffle and rolled out of the room. The accused was holding a bamboo that was trying to strike his brother.

Then immediately their father interfered and the father’s head accidentally got hit by the bamboo blow, directed at the son. The father succumbed to the injuries and died. The Guwahati High Court held that no offence had been committed by the accused as the act was covered by s 80 (the exception in) and acquitted.

3. The consequence of lawful actions carried out by lawful means

In order to take advantage of the protection provided for in section 80, an act should be an accident, done without intention, and such an act should also be a lawful act, done by lawful means. For example, if a blow is unlawfully targeted at an individual and it strikes another and kills him, the accused cannot be protected under section 80.

4. Proper Care and Caution

Not only should the accidental act be without any criminal intent and a lawful act, but it should also have been exercised with “proper care and caution.” What is required is not the utmost consideration, but adequate precaution that, in the circumstances of the case, a reasonable and prudent man would consider appropriate.

One of the key provisions of s 80 is that the act must have been carried out with due care and caution and that the amount of care and situation took by the defendant must be done by a prudent and rational man in the circumstances of the case.

In Sita Ram v State of Rajasthan [4], the accused dug a spade into the ground. The deceased came to pick up the mud. The spade hit on the head of the deceased and he succumbed to the injuries. The defendant claimed it to be an accident.

The Rajasthan High Court held that the accused knew that the mud would be picked up by other workers. The accused was not careful and cautious and was negligent. Under s 304A, IPC, he was sentenced.

In Shankar Narayan Bhadolkar v State of Maharashtra[5], the Supreme Court refused to grant the protection of s 80 to a person who had picked up a weapon, unlocked it, loaded it with ammunition and shot dead, one of the invited guests at his place for dinner. It held that the accused’s act was intentional and without due care and caution.

III. Introduction to Section 81

Section 81 in The Indian Penal Code: Act likely to cause harm, but done without criminal intent, and to prevent other harm– Nothing is an offence merely by reason of its being done with the knowledge that it is likely to cause harm if it be done without any criminal intention to cause harm, and in good faith for the purpose of preventing or avoiding other harm to person or property.

Explanation.—It is a question of fact in such a case whether the harm to be prevented or avoided was of such a nature and so imminent as to justify or excuse the risk of doing the act with the knowledge that it was likely to cause harm.

Illustrations

(a) A, the captain of a steam vessel, suddenly and without any fault or negligence on his part, finds himself in such a position that, before he can stop his vessel, he must inevitably run down to boat B, with twenty or thirty passengers on board, unless he changes the course of his vessel, and that, by changing his course, he must incur risk of running down a boat C with only two passengers on board, which he may possibly clear.

Here, if A alters his course without any intention to run down the boat C and in good faith for the purpose of avoiding the danger to the passengers in the boat B, he is not guilty of an offence, though he may run down the boat C by doing an act which he knew was likely to cause that effect if it be found as a matter of fact that the danger which he intended to avoid was such as to excuse him in incurring the risk of running down the boat C.

(b) A, in a great fire, pulls down houses in order to prevent the conflagration from spreading. He does this with the intention in good faith of saving human life or property. Here, if it is found that the harm to be prevented was of such a nature and so immi­nent as to excuse A’s act. A is not guilty of the offence.”

Doctrine of Necessity

Section 81 IPC  acknowledges and embraces the necessity principle as a shield against criminal liability. Legal necessity involves the judgment that in the particular circumstances the evil of obeying the letter of the law is socially greater than the evil of breaking it.

In other words, in order to achieve a greater good, the rule must be violated.  It is relevant to note that while s 81 does not specifically refer to’ greater evil’ or’ lesser evil,’ it deals with the’ lesser evil’ situation in practice

Preventing or Avoiding Other Harm

Immunity from criminal liability under s 81 shall be available where an offence is committed without any criminal intention to cause harm and in good faith and where such offence has been committed in order to prevent or prevent further harm to persons or property.

In Gopal Naidu v Emperor [6], a drunken man with a revolver in his hand was disarmed and subjected to restraint by police officers, although the offence of public disturbance under s 290 was an unrecognizable offence without a warrant.

Although police officers were prima facie guilty of the wrongful confinement offence, under this section they were held to be able to plead justification. The Madras High Court held that “the person or property to be protected may be the person or property of the accused himself or of others”.

Necessity as a reason for homicide

It is a very difficult question whether the doctrine of necessity can be applied as a justification for killing another human being. The usual view is that a murder charge is not a defence against necessity. It may seem like an example of the necessity to kill a person in self-defence.

The accused was a member of a boat’s crew following a shipwreck in the case of United States v. Holmes[7]. Fearing the vessel would sink, he threw 16 male passengers overboard under the mate’s instructions. Although not convicted of murder, the defendant was convicted of manslaughter and sentenced with hard labour to six months ‘ imprisonment.


References

  1. KI Vibhute, PSA Pillai’s CRIMINAL LAW, 11th ed, 2012, Lexis Nexis.
  2. Ratanlal & Dhirajlal, THE INDIAN PENAL CODE, 35th ed, Lexis Nexis.

[1] Blackstone’s Criminal Practice 2003, Peter Murphy (ed), Oxford, 2003, p 34.

[2] AIR 1952 Nag 268

[3] (1993) CrLJ 3808 (Gau)

[4] (1998) CrLJ 287 (Raj)

[5] AIR 2004 SC 1966

[6] AIR 1921 Mad 523

[7] 26 Fed Cas 360 (1842)


  1. Important Provisions in IPC with regard to Women and Children(Opens in a new browser tab)