Section 300 of the Indian Penal Code, 1860

The author in this article discusses Section 300 of the Indian Penal Code and the fact that a killing is termed as a murder when there exists both actus reas and mens rea, that is the intention or knowledge of causing death

Introduction to Section 300 of the Indian Penal Code

“The justifications of men who kill should always be heard with skepticism, said the monster.”
― Patrick NessA Monster Calls

The Law of Crimes of India is one of the strictest laws and inculcates within it– The Indian Penal Code, 1860, and the Law of Evidence. One defines the crimes and the punishment, while the other mentions procedures for the punishment. The Indian Penal code was drafted in 1860 under the chairmanship of Lord Macaulay and came into force in British Raj in 1862. It is sub-divided into 23 chapters comprising of 511 sections. Indian Penal Code is the fundamental code of crimes in India. Chapter 16 of the Code deals with the offenses affecting the human body, which encompasses the offense of murder as given under section 300 of the Indian penal code.

Murder in a layman’s language is simply to commit the killing of one person by another person. Murder is said to be one of the greatest crimes that any man can commit because it involves taking of another person’s life. Murder is the infringement of the ‘Right to life’ of a person given under Article 21 of the constitution and is the most basic, fundamental and important article of our constitution. Infringing on a person’s life and causing it to end is the greatest sin of mankind. As much as Murder is criticized and loathed morally, it is looked down upon legally under the laws framed in the past.

Murder’ comes from a Germanic word ‘morth’ which means ‘secret killing.’ A killing is termed as a murder when there exists both actusreas and mens rea, that is the intention or knowledge of causing death. Section 300 of the Indian Penal Code, 1860 inculcates the provision for murder in the Law of Crimes and it is read in reference to Section 299 which provides for ‘Culpable Homicide.’ Homicide means killing of one person by another person. Homicide may be culpable and culpable homicide may amount to murder. Murder is a bigger offence than culpable homicide. While culpable homicide is a genus, murder is a species. An offence cannot amount to murder until and unless it falls under the purview of culpable homicide. Once an offence comes within the ambit of culpable homicide, it is then seen as to whether the essentials of Section 300 are fulfilled thus making the offence a murder, or whether it falls within the periphery of the exceptions,, thus making it a culpable homicide not amounting to murder.

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Section 300 of the Indian Penal Code

The Section reads: Culpable homicide amounts to murder,

  1. If the act which causes the death is done with the intention of causing death, or
  2. If the act is done with the intention of causing such bodily injury which the offender knows can cause the death of the person to whom the harm is caused, or
  3. If it is done with the intention of causing such bodily injury to any person which is sufficient in the ordinary course of nature to cause death, or
  4. If the person committing the act knows that the act is so imminently dangerous that it must, in all probability, cause death or such bodily injury which is likely to cause death.

Example: A intentionally gives Z a sword-cut knife sufficient to cause the death of a man in the ordinary course of nature. Z dies in consequence. Here, A is guilty of murder, although he may not have intended to cause Z’s death.

Exceptions

There are certain exceptions mentioned in this section when culpable homicide will not be said to amount to murder. Culpable Homicide will not amount to Murder if:

  1. The person causes the murder as a consequence of being deprived of his power of self-control by grave and sudden provocation by the person whose death is caused or causes the death of any other person by mistake or accident.
  2. Culpable homicide is not murder if the offender exceeds the powers given to him by law and causes the death of the person, in the exercise in good faith of the right of private defense of person or property, and without any intention of doing more harm than is necessary for the purpose of such defense.
  3. Culpable homicide is not murder if the offender, being a public servant or aiding a public servant acting for the advancement of public justice, exceeds the powers given to him by law, and causes death by doing an act which he, in good faith, believes to be lawful and necessary for the due discharge of his duty as such public servant and without ill-will towards the person whose death is caused.
  4. Culpable homicide is not murder if it is committed without premeditation in a sudden fight in the heat of passion upon a sudden quarrel and without the offenders having taken undue advantage or acted in a cruel or unusual manner.
  5. Culpable homicide is not murder when the person whose death is caused, being above the age of eighteen years, suffers death or takes the risk of death with his own consent.
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Essentials of Murder

On a perusal of the aforementioned provision, the following aspects seem to form the essentials of murder:

  1. The intention of causing death.
  2. The intention of causing such bodily injury which is likely to cause the death of that person.
  3. The intention of causing such bodily injury which is sufficient in the ordinary course of nature to cause death.
  4. If the act is done with the knowledge, that it is so imminently dangerous that it must, in all probability, cause death, or such bodily injury as is likely to cause death, and such act is committed without any excuse for incurring the risk of causing death or injury.

These essential ingredients have been discussed in a number of cases by various courts. In Kesar Singh v. State of Haryana,[1]the Court discussed the difference between the two kind of mental elements, i.e. knowledge and intention. The Court held that, “ knowledge denotes a bare state of conscious awareness of certain facts in which the human mind might itself remain supine or inactive whereas intention connotes a conscious state in which mental faculties are roused into activity and summed up into action for the deliberate purpose of being directed towards a particular and specific end which the human mind conceives and perceives before itself.” Further, it has been held by the Supreme Court that the chain of evidence must be of conclusive nature and it must not leave the room for any reasonable conclusion in favour of the innocence of the accused.[2]The third clause postulates a greater degree of probability of death, it implies that death will be the most probable result of the injury having regard to the ordinary course of nature.[3] The Section also lays down the following five exceptions to the offence of murder:

  • Grave and sudden provocation
    • Private defense
    • Act of public servant
    • Sudden fight
    • Consent
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With regard to sudden provocation, the court held that the test to be applied is that of the effect of the provocation on a reasonable man; and in applying that test it is of particular importance to consider whether a sufficient interval has elapsed since the receiving of the information which caused the provocation to allow a reasonable man to cool down.[4]

Punishment

Section 302 mentions that a person liable for murder shall be punishable with death or life imprisonment with a fine. Thus, it can be concluded that murder being a crime of heinous nature, special care has to be taken of the question as to whether the essential ingredients of the provision have been truly fulfilled or not and whether any of the exceptions is attracted. Regard must be given to the various landmark judgements which has laid down the precedents on the subject matter, so that the miscarriage of justice does not take place.

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[1]Kesar Singh v. State of Haryana, 2008 15 SCC 753.

[2]Arvind v. State, 1999 (4) SC 4861.

[3]State of Andhra Pradesh v. RayavarpuPunayya, AIR 1977 SC 45.

[4]K.M. Nanavati v. State of Maharasthra, AIR 1962 SC 605.