Right of private defence begins the moment threat is imminent
Avoid hyper-technical approach in considering what happens on the spur of the moment
New Delhi: The right of self-defence in criminal assault cases has to be viewed pragmatically and not through high-power spectacles or under microscopes to detect slight or even marginal overstepping, the Supreme Court has held.
Self-defence is a very valuable right, “serving a social purpose and should not be construed narrowly,” said a Bench consisting of Justices Arijit Pasayat and P. Sathasivam. “A person who is apprehending death or bodily injury cannot weigh in golden scales, on the spur of moment and in the heat of circumstances, the number of injuries required to disarm the assailants who were armed with weapons.”
The Bench said: “In moments of excitement and disturbed mental equilibrium, it is often difficult to expect the parties to preserve composure and use exactly only so much force in retaliation, commensurate with the danger apprehended to him; where assault is imminent by use of force, it would be lawful to repel the force in self-defence and the right of private defence commences, as soon as the threat becomes so imminent.”
Writing the judgment, Justice Pasayat said such situations had to be pragmatically viewed.
“A hyper-technical approach has to be avoided in considering what happens on the spur of the moment on the spot and keeping in view normal human reaction and conduct, where self-preservation is the paramount consideration.”
The Bench said: “The person facing a reasonable apprehension of threat to himself cannot be expected to modulate his defence step by step with any arithmetical exactitude of only that much which is required in the thinking of a man in ordinary times or under normal circumstances.”
Cautioning the courts, it said: “But if the fact situation shows that in the guise of self-preservation, what really has been done is to assault the original aggressor even after the cause of reasonable apprehension has disappeared, the plea of right of private defence can legitimately be negatived. The court dealing with the plea has to weigh the material to conclude whether the plea is acceptable. It is essentially a finding of fact.”
In the instant case, Narain Singh and three others were convicted and sentenced to life imprisonment for the murder of an assailant, Balbir Singh, who, carrying lathis and other arms, had entered Narain’s agricultural field. On appeal, the Punjab and Haryana High Court handed 10 years’ imprisonment to Narain and five-year jail to the other three.
The present appeal is directed against that judgment. The Bench did not accept the plea of self-defence, stating it should not be allowed to be pleaded or availed of by one as a pretext for a vindictive, aggressive or retributive purpose of offence.
“A right to defend does not include a right to launch an offensive, particularly when the need to defend no longer survived.”
The Bench, however, reduced Narain’s imprisonment to seven years but confirmed the sentence on the others.
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