VIRSA SINGH v. THE STATE OF PUNJAB

In Hon’ble Supreme Court of India

March 11,1958

Appeal (crl.) 90 of 1957

APPELLANT :

Virsa Singh

RESPONDENT:

State of Punjab

BENCH- P.B. Gajendragadkar, Syed Jaffer Imam and Vivian Bose, J.

Facts

  • The accused thrusted a spear into the lower abdomen of deceased on 8 pm, July 13,1955, eventually leading to his death the following day.  According to the post-mortem report, there was only one injury which resulted in a 2 x1/2 cm  transverse punctured wound, just above the inguinal canal and led to three coils of intestines coming out. The doctor had reported that this injury was sufficient to cause death in ordinary course of nature.
  • On June 26,1956, the Sessions Judge at the Ferozepore court believed that the accused had only intended to cause grievous hurt in the form of a rash and silly act, which ultimately caused his death. However, the court applied S.300 (3) of the Indian Penal Code (IPC) and the accused was accordingly convicted and sentenced under s.302 of the IPC.
  • On November 21,1956, The Punjab High Court upheld the conviction. It accepted that the appellant had intentionally inflicted the injury to the deceased and accepted the medical testimony indicating the fatality of the injury.
  • On March 11,1958, the Supreme Court had convicted and sentenced the accused to imprisonment for life under S.302 IPC for the Murder of the deceased.

Issue

  • What offence has been committed by the accused?

Rule

  • Section 300(3) of the IPC states that an individual is said to commit the offence of murder if they intentionally inflict an injury that causes death in the ordinary course of nature.
  • Section 302 of  The IPC states that whoever commits the offence of murder shall be punished with life imprisonment or death and is also liable for a fine.

Arguments Raised

  • The counsel for the appellant by quoting s.300(3),IPC argued that the  prosecution had failed to prove the intention on behalf of the accused to inflict a bodily injury that was sufficient to cause death in the ordinary course of nature.
  • The learned counsel by quoting the Chief Justice’s comments in R v. Steane argued that the burden to address the question of intent is upon the prosecution, failure to which must lead the accused to be acquitted.
  • Furthermore, the counsel referred to Emperor v Sardarkhan Jaridkhan, which stated the difficulty to establish as to what degree of  injury the offender had intended to inflict when the death is caused by a single blow.

Reasoning

  • According to the Court, the two parts of s.300 (3),IPC are disjunctive and separate.  The first part of the clause, to establish intention to inflict a bodily injury on behalf of the accused is entirely subjective, whereas the nature of enquiry with respect to the injury inflected under the second part of the clause is completely objective and proceeds on broad lines. That is, it is based on a question of fact and leaves no room for inference or deduction with respect to the intention of the offender.
  • Upon examination of the first part, the court was of the opinion that one does not has the license to inflict injuries that are sufficient to cause death in ordinary course of nature and must face the consequences if they have intended so. However, the provision of s.300 (3) would not apply if  circumstances warrant an inference that the injury was accidental or unintentional in any manner. For example, If the circumstances justify an inference that an individual had only intended to injure the thigh of the individual but had ended up injuring the person at any vital point such as his heart by accident, then the intention to inflict bodily injury under s.300 (3) fails to apply in this case.
  • In response to R v. Steane , the Court by quoting lines from the same judgement  goes on to establish the intention on behalf of the accused despite, the absence of evidence by the prosecution on the contrary. Considering the medical report presented, the court found it unreasonable to conclude that the accused had not intended to inflict the injury. With the establishment of intention, the enquiry of the nature and seriousness of injury was then shifted on an objective approach based on the medical report and other facts with respect to the case.
  • In response to Emperor v. Sadarkhan, the Court addresses that the application of s.300(3) does not require the linking of the question of seriousness of the injury with that of the intention of the accused. However, the seriousness of the injury along with the totality of the circumstances may be linked with the inquiry to establish an inference that the individual had not intended to inflict the bodily injury that comes under the purview of s.300(3). For example, if the prisoner had only intended to cause a superficial scratch and the victim by accident had stumbled on the spear that was used then the offence would not be murder. But, if there is no evidence on the contrary to the causation of the injury, then the only possible inference is that the accused intended to inflict the injury.

Held

  • The Court held that the accused  had the intention to inflict the injury to the deceased. The nature of this injury was sufficient to cause death in the ordinary course of nature.
  • The Court had established a four-point test that must be proved by the prosecution to bring a case under s.300 (3) of the IPC. The conditions are as follows:
    • Firstly, it must establish that a bodily injury is present.
    • Secondly, an objective investigation must be held to determine the nature of the injury.
    • Thirdly, the injury must not be accidental or unintentional, that is the intention to inflict the injury must be established.
    • Fourthly,  an objective inquiry is to be held as to whether the  particular injury must be sufficient to cause death in ordinary course of nature.
  • The appeal on behalf of the accused stood dismissed.

Personal Comments

  • This landmark Judgement acts as a doorway for fundamental understanding of offences relating to murder. It served the purpose of expanding the scope of intention as to committing the offence of murder by establishing a fine line of distinction between both the first and third clause of s.300 of the IPC. While the first clause requires a direct intention to cause death, the third clause only requires the oblique intention to cause death that can be established by the intention of the individual to inflict an injury which is sufficient to cause death in ordinary course of nature. In this manner, one does not get away with murder even if they had the slightest intention to cause the death of the individual in question and ensures that equitable justice is provided.
  • The foundation of criminal law is based on striking a fine balance between the subjective and objective approach to provide equitable justice in any case. While the Court had provided sound reasoning for the case, it had failed to translate the same by lucidly defining the four-point test that it had laid. The four-point test leans towards the objective approach more than it should. That is, while the court in its reasoning had stated that S.300 (3) would not apply to cases in which the individual had intended to inflict an injury that is distinguishable from the actual injury which in turn is accidental or unintentional in nature, the interpretation of the four conditions laid down as per the test on the contrary, stipulated that S.300(3) would still apply to such cases. This interpretation of the four-point test had led to taking it for granted that the individual had intended to cause the actual injury and failed to account for cases in which the actual and intended injury were distinguishable. This ambiguity had led the case to misinterpret the ratio set by the case and a trail of injustice in the due process. In the case of Visvanathan v. , the court had significantly departed from what was set as the ratio under Virsa when the court found it irrelevant as to “what kind of injury the accused intended to inflect” and shifted its focus to the actual injury found to be present. Whereas in the case of  Tan Joo cheng V. P.P , the prosecution did not have to prove  that the accused had intended to strike the victim at a vital point and was wrongly convicted under s.300 as the accused did not have the intention to inflict an injury that would kill him in the ordinary course of nature.

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