This article was written by K. Lakshmi a studnet of M. S. Ramaiah College of Law, Bangalore
According to Sir Stephen “A crime is an act or an omission in respect of which legal punishment may be inflicted on the person who is in default either by acting or omitting to act”. So crime is nothing but an Act which is forbidden by law and is against the moral sentiments of the society.
One of the principles of Criminal law says that an act cannot be considered as a crime when the mind of the person who has done the said act is innocent and not guilty. The fundamental principle of penal liability is based on a Latin maxim “Actus non facit reum nisi mens sit rea” which means “The Act and the Intent must concur to constitute a crime”. In simple words, it means an act done by a person will not be considered as a crime unless it is done with a guilty mind. For example, Jack picks up his watch from the locker room at Tennis club and goes back home. Later, he realizes that it is not his watch but even then he retains it in his possession as this watch is better looking and more expensive than the watch he had earlier. As Jack wanted to retain the watch with himself thereby dispossessing the true owner of the same so there is both a guilty act and a guilty mind and that’s when it’s considered to be an offence.
INTENTION AS A MENTAL ELEMENT OF A CRIME
One of the most important ingredient of a crime is Mens rea i.e. an intention to do a wrongful act knowing the evil consequences of the same. The element of Mens rea is indicated by use of words such as intention, malice, fraudulent, recklessness etc. There must be a mind at fault before commission of an offence. Mens rea includes both the intention to do an act as well as abstaining from doing an act which is required to be done. Mere intention to do a wrongful act is itself prohibited by law. An accused will be held guilty if it’s proved that he had an intention to commit the crime but the burden of proof lies on the opposite party and there should be sufficient justification to conclude that intention existed. The court in Ramachandra Gujar’s case 1 held that intention can be only inferred from the conduct of a person and the probable effect of such a conduct must be taken into account as well.
In State of Maharashtra vs M.H. George 2, the Supreme Court held that criminal intention is a psychological fact which needs to be proved even with regards to offences under special acts unless it’s specifically ruled out or ruled out by necessary implication.
In Hari Mohan Mandal vs. State of Jharkhand 3, Hon’ble Supreme Court held that it is not essential that bodily injury capable of causing death should have been inflicted. Intention to kill or knowledge that death will be caused is a question of fact which will be subject matter of trial.
State vs. Salauddin @ Raja & Anr.4, the court held that Intention or knowledge is an essential ingredient for an offence under Section 307 IPC.
INTENTIONAL VS UNINTETIONAL
As mentioned before, Intentional wrongs are punishable whereas an act done without a dishonest intention or unintentionally then the person will not be held liable for the result of the act. In other words, a person will not be punished under the law if the said act done by him was in good faith to either protect himself or to prevent harm to somebody else. For this purpose, the person accused must show that the act was done in order to avoid certain unpleasant consequences which would give rise to irreparable damages and it is very much vital to show that the crime done by the person is not disproportionate to the evil avoided.
For instance, Jack wanted to hunt down a deer and he could sense the bush moving. He honestly in good faith thought it was a deer and shot a bullet but he ended up killing an innocent man. In this scenario, Jack will not be liable for murder as he did not have the intention to kill the man, whereas, in case if Jack knew there was a man behind the bush and in spite of that he shot a bullet then he would be guilty for the said offence and will be punishable for the same as he had an wrongful intention to cause harm.
In Sherras’s case 5 the court held that Mens rea is an essential ingredient of crime except in (1) cases not criminal in real sense but which in the public interest are prohibited under a penalty, (2) public nuisance, and (3) cases criminal in form but which are really only a summary mode of enforcing a civil right.
There are certain exceptions to the doctrine of means rea and they are as follows:
- Doctrine of Strict liability
Offences under strict liability is otherwise known as public welfare offences. Crimes committed under the Rule of strict liability wholly excludes Mens rea i.e. even if the person who committed the said offence doesn’t have a guilty mind or the intention to do the same but will be held liable for the crime committed under the doctrine of strict liability. Instances like Offences against the State, Sedition (s. 124A), Abduction, Kidnapping and Counterfeiting coins (S.232), even in the absence of Mens rea, the person committing such an act is liable under the principle of strict liability. This is done for the purpose of protecting the interest of the public. But under few circumstances, the offender will be relieved from such a criminal liability, like in case of minors, lunatics or intoxication against will.
Generally, a person is made liable for the acts committed by him but under vicarious liability, a person is made liable for an act committed by another person. The principle of vicarious liability usually applies to the relationships shared by a master and servant or an employer and an employee.
In the case of Harish Chandra vs state of M.P, the Supreme Court held that, liability of the master for the offence committed by the servant majorly depends on the knowledge of the circumstances constituting such an offence.
The principle of vicarious liability does not apply for majority of offences under the Indian Penal code. It does apply to few sections such as section 154 and 155 of the Indian penal Code under which a landowner is made vicariously liable for rioting committed in his land provided it is done for his benefit or if he does not report about the same to the police authorities.
As we all know, according to the principle of Criminal law, both Physical Act i.e. Actus Reus and Guilty Mind/ intention i.e. Mens rea must be present to make a person liable for an offence. It is impossible to apply this principle generally to all the offences. Careful assessment of the case is necessary and proper examination on how far the intention should be considered relevant for the commission of the offence before its application.
- Ramachandra Gujar, (1937) 39 BOM LR 1184
- State of Maharashtra vs. M.H. George, AIR 1965 SC 722
- Hari Mohan Mandal vs. State of Jharkhand , 2004 (1) SCC 220
- State vs. Salauddin @ Raja & Anr. on 18 October, 2011
- Sherras vs. De Rutzen (1895) 1 Q B 918