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IPC Principle of criminal liability

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Principle of criminal liability – Recognition of the mental and physical elements
The most famous principal of criminal liability in the form of a maxim thus:

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Principle of criminal liability – Recognition of the mental and physical elements

The most famous principal of criminal liability in the form of a maxim thus:

  • actus non facit reum nisi mens sit rea,
which means that a guilty act together with a guilty mind constitute a crime.

Actus rea:

Any act or omission which is prohibited by law, is called actus rea.

Mens rea:

Whenever any person does an act with guilty mind, it is called mens rea.
The guilty mind and actus rea both must be present at the same time to entail conviction under criminal law.
  • Application of the principal of actus non facit reum nisi mens sits rea in India.
The principle of actus non facit reum nisi mens sit rea is applicable in India both in the Indian penal code and in other criminals’ statutes.

 In the former, the maximum is applicable in three ways –

  1.  Positively
  2.  Negatively
  3. Strict liability.

1. Positive application

Different words denoting different guilty minds have been used in the code.

Words such as intentionally, knowingly, rashly, negligently, dishonestly, fraudulently, and the like have been used in different sections of the code while describing a particular offence.

This shows that for the particular offence that particular word denotes the guilty mind, which must be proved against the offender for his conviction.

For instance in theft under section 378 dishonest intention of the offender must be proved.

2. Negative application of the concept of mens rea

In the Indian penal code is visible in Chapter 4th dealing with general exceptions. The various sections 76 to 106 in this chapter show that an offender cannot be held guilty of an offence if any of these exceptions is available to him, because the law presumes that his guilty mind is absent when he is acting under an exception. 

For instance,

The question as to why is an offender not guilty when acting under mistake of fact under section 76 or 79, or under unsoundness of mind under section 84, or under intoxication under section 85 of the code is because he does not have a guilty mind of committing the offence whilst acting under the mistake, unsoundness of mind or intoxication. All these exceptions presume absence of guilty mind on the path of the offender. 

3. Strict liability

In certain offences  mere doing something has been made punishable, and there is no need to prove any guilty mind against the offender.

In such case, the law presumes that doing of that thing must have been done with guilty mind, and so is punishable.

For instance, in obscenity under section 292, mere selling or distributing or important for exporting etc. any obscene object has been made punishable, and no guilty mind need be proved.

In certain statutes other than the Indian Penal Code this strict liability principal has been incorporated in India. The arms act, 1959, The prevention of Food Adulteration Act, 1954 and many other statutes has similar provisions.

Actus Reus

      any act or omission which is prohibited by law is called actus reus

 it is of two types direct or indirect is of six types according to Kenny

‘1. Where there’s no physical participation –

It’s not necessary for criminal liability that the offende should physically participate within the commission of the crime. For instance, a person may be convicted as an accessory, abetter or a conspirator as the actus reus will be imputed to him also.

2. Where the participation is indirect

Indirect participation on the part of the offender may also result in his conviction since the actus reus may be attributed to him. For instance, secretly mixing poison in the food of a person with the expectation or knowledge that the same would be served to him by another would mean that it was the actus reus of the poison mixer which resulted into the offence.

3. Where another person has intervened –

There may be a situation where a particular event has resulted partly by the act or omission of the Prisoner and partially by that of another person who has intervened in the matter. In such cases the courts may be in a dilemma with respect to the question as to whose actus reus it was.If the consequences of a offence was that of the prisoner, it would be his actus reus, while if the consequence was that of the intervener, The actus reus would be attributd.

4. Where the victim’s own conduct has affected the result – 

There may be a situation where the Prisoner does something against the victim as a result of which the victim suffers injuries, and then the victim’s own conduct affects the final result. If in such a situation the court concludes that the final result would still have remain the same even if the victim had not done anything subsequently, the actus reus would be attributed to the prisoner

5. Contributory negligence of the victim –

Even though the plea of contributory negligence is an important plea in the domain of law of tort, it is not so in law of crimes. Therefore, if the offender pleads negligence on the of the victim towards the harm suffered by him, his plea fails and actus reus would be attributed to the offender alone. For instance, if a driver drives his car at a dangerous speed and runs over the victim, a pedestrian, who himself was negligent; the driver would not be allowed to plead contributory negligence on the part of the victim.

6. Where the participation is superfluous-

In such situations where the participation of the accused in a crime has been superfluous, it may still be his actus Reus if he has participated intentionally in the crime.  For instance, If a person is beating another to death when the accused comes and joins him in the process and gives the victim a blow as a result of which he dies, the accused would be liable, along with the other person, for causing death of the victim if they both could foresee that the victim would die as a result of the attack on him.'(1)

Burden of proof in criminal matters. –

 The burden of proof in Criminal Case lies on the prosecution, i.e. the state.
An accused is presumed to be innocent until proved guilty. The state must collect all the evidence against the accused and place the same before the court in such a manner that it is proved beyond reasonable doubt that the accused has in fact committed the crime of which he is charged.

Interpretation of a penal statute. –

 The principal is that a penal statute is to be interpreted strictly. While interpreting a provision in a penal statute if there appears to be a reasonable doubt or ambiguity, it shall be resolved in favour of the person who would be liable to the penalty.

Protection in respect of conviction for offences (Article 20, Constitution of India)

Ex –
1. Art. 20(1) Post facto law;

2. Art. 20(2) Protection against Double jeopardy;

3. Art. 20(3)Protection against Self – incrimination.

Protection against arrest and detention in certain cases( Article 22, Constitution of India)

Protection under ordinary law – 

  • 1. In certain cases Right to be informed on ground of  arrest.
  • 2. Right to consult and to be defended by a legal practitioner of his choice.
  • 3. Right to be produced before a Magistrate within 24 hours of his arrest.
  • 4. Not to be detained beyond 24 hours without Magistrate’s Authority.

IPC Principle of criminal liability


 (1)Professor Tridivesh Bhattacharya, The Indian Penal Code, (CLA) 2013