A person can kill one under the right of self-defence only on reasonable apprehensions of threat to his own life from the offender, the Supreme Court has ruled.
A bench of justices K S Radhakrishnan and Dipak Misra said the injury which is inflicted by a person exercising the right should be commensurate with the injury with which he is threatened.
"Right of private defence cannot be used to do away with a wrong doer unless the person concerned has a reasonable cause to fear that otherwise death or grievous hurt might ensue in which case that person would have full measure of the right to private defence.
"The right given under (IPC) sections 96 to 98 and 100 to 106 is controlled by Section 99. To plead a right of private defence extending to voluntary causing of death, the accused must show that there were circumstances giving rise to reasonable grounds for apprehending that either death or grievous hurt would be caused to him," said Justice Radhakrishnan, writing the judgement for the bench.
The apex court gave the ruling while disposing of an appeal by one Arjun who had challenged his conviction by the trial court for a murder with the Bombay High Court affirming it.
"Section 99 of the IPC explains that the injury which is inflicted by a person exercising the right should be commensurate with the injury with which he is threatened.
"True, that the accused need not prove the existence of the right of private defence beyond reasonable doubt and it is enough for him to show as in a civil case that preponderance of probabilities is in favour of his plea," the court said.
Arjun was awarded life sentence for the murder of one Jagannath Rambhau Shirsath and causing grievous hurt to his wife on July 30, 2002 at Taklimanur, Pathardi Taluka in Ahmednagar district.
The high court affirmed the conviction and sentence against which he had come in appeal to the apex court.
The defence took the plea that it was Arjun and his associates who were attacked by the deceased and his family owing to a civil dispute and the death occurred when the convict exercised his right of self-defence.
Rejecting the argument, the apex court said the evidence of the witnesses with regard to the incident and the death of Jagannath has been fully corroborated by the medical evidence as well as the evidence of independent witnesses, besides the injuries suffered by the deceased's wife.
The bench said it was true that Arjun suffered minor injuries in the incident, but that itself does not justify the killing by him.
"The appellant was armed with a knife and it was with that knife that he had inflicted serious injuries on the head of the deceased and which was the cause of Jagannath's death.
"Further, there is also sufficient evidence to show that the appellant had inflicted injuries on the wife of the deceased as well when she tried to save her husband. The deceased was unarmed, so was his wife and the son. At the same time, the accused was armed with a knife," the bench said.
However, since the killing was not "pre-mediated" and the accused "did not act in a cruel manner," the bench altered the conviction for murder under 302 IPC to 304 (1) (culpable homicide not amounting to murder) and reduced the punishment to 10 year of imprisonment.