Law Relating to Right of Private Defence : 10 Important Principles

Sections 96 to 106 of the Indian Penal Code, 1860 (IPC) deal with right of private defence of a person involved in commission of offences under the IPC. Section 96 of IPC says that nothing is an offence, which is done in the exercise of the right of private defence.

Section 97 of IPC provides that a right of private defence extends not only to the defence of one’s own body against any offence affecting the human body but also to defend the body of any other person. The right also embraces the protection of property, whether one’s own or another person’s, against certain specified offences, namely, theft, robbery, mischief and criminal trespass. 

The limitations on this right and its scope are set out in the sections which follow. For one thing, the right does not arise if there is time to have recourse to the protection of the public authorities, and for another, it does not extend to the infliction of more harm than is necessary for the purpose of defence. Another limitation is that when death is caused, the person exercising the right must be under reasonable apprehension of death, or grievous hurt, to himself or to those whom he is protecting; and in the case of property, the danger to it must be of the kinds specified in Section 103. The scope of the right is further explained in Sections 102 and 105 of the IPC.

(See observations of Justice Vivian Bose in Amjad Khan vs. Haji Mohammad Khan, AIR 1952 SC 165) 

The Apex Court Court also examined this question in the case of Darshan Singh v. State of Punjab, (2010) 2 SCC 333 and laid down the following 10 principles after analyzing Sections 96 to 106 IPC which read as under: 

1. Self-­preservation is the basic human instinct and is duly recognised by the criminal jurisprudence of all civilised countries. All free, democratic and civilised countries recognise the right of private defence within certain reasonable limits. 

2. The right of private defence is available only to one who is suddenly confronted with the necessity of averting an impending danger and not of self­creation. 

3. A mere reasonable apprehension is enough to put the right of self­-defence into operation. In other words, it is not necessary that there should be an actual commission of the offence in order to give rise to the right of private defence. It is enough if the accused apprehended that such an offence is contemplated and it is likely to be committed if the right of private defence is not exercised. 

4. The right of private defence commences as soon as a reasonable apprehension arises and it is coterminous with the duration of such apprehension. 

5. It is unrealistic to expect a person under assault to modulate his defence step by step with any arithmetical exactitude. 

6. In private defence the force used by the accused ought not to be wholly disproportionate or much greater than necessary for protection of the person or property. 

7. It is well settled that even if the accused does not plead self­defence, it is open to consider such a plea if the same arises from the material on record. 

8. The accused need not prove the existence of the right of private defence beyond reasonable doubt. 

9. The Penal Code confers the right of private defence only when that unlawful or wrongful act is an offence. 

10. A person who is in imminent and reasonable danger of losing his life or limb may in exercise of self­defence inflict any harm even extending to death on his assailant either when the assault is attempted or directly threatened.

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