Blackstone has defined crime as “an act committed or omitted in violation of public law forbidding or commanding it”. When a person commits a crime, the equilibrium of the society gets disturbed and the act is considered as a wrong against the society at large. Ever since the Indian Penal Code (“IPC”), 1860, came into existence it has been celebrated widely as a great piece of penal legislation positively testifying the balance wheel in the society as there is a rich lode of progressive laws contained in the code.
Provocation rationalizes as a mitigating circumstance for the offences like murder, hurt, grievous hurt, assault, criminal force. Any crime committed in the sudden heat of passion is considered less blameworthy than a deliberate act. The paper intends to demonstrate the general theme of how courts have closely examined and interpreted the exception of ‘grave and sudden provocation’ over the period of time apropos analyzing the Kandasamy Ramaraj case, which gave consideration to the temperament of the accused.
Considering the temperament of the Accused
The supreme court expanded its criminal jurisprudence while delivering judgment in the case of Kandaswamy Ramaraj v. The state by Inspector of police, CBCID, by deciding the case in favour of the appellant. The Apex court stated forthrightly that the ‘Temperament of the accused’ is a decisive factor while determining whether the accused should get the defense of grave and sudden provocation i.e., Exception 1 of section 300 of the IPC.
The aforesaid appeal was filed in the Supreme Court by K Ramaraj against the judgment of Madras High Court that convicted him under section 302 of the IPC thereby sentencing him with life imprisonment and a fine of Rs 50,000. The accused herein was a retired officer in the Indian army and had shot a boy named ‘Dilshan’ (the ‘Deceased’) when the deceased ventured into the army men’s conclave to pluck almonds and mangoes.
The supreme court found that the appellant is a very short-tempered man and gets annoyed in the course when the local boys from the adjoining area barge into the conclave to pluck mangoes. The apex court clearly opined that
…the appellant committed the offence in question whilst he was deprived of the power of self-control upon sudden provocation by the children. There was no calculated intention or premeditation on his part to commit the murder of the deceased.
The court further convicted the appellant under section 304, part II of the IPC and gave the benefit of exception 1 of section 300.
Revisiting Grave and Sudden Provocation
Exception 1 to Section 300 of the IPC defines ‘Grave and sudden provocation’ as a partial defense and has been recognized as an extenuating circumstance. There have been a plethora of judicial decisions over a considerable length of time to resolve the ambiguities.
To mitigate the offence of murder to culpable homicide not amounting to murder [by relying upon Exception 1 to Section 300], four essentials must be proved, these are:
- There must be provocation by the deceased
- The provocation must be grave and sudden
- By reason of such grave and sudden provocation, the offender must have been deprived of the power of self-control.
- Death of a person who gave such provocation or of any other person, by mistake or accident, must have been caused.
In order to avail protection, it is necessary that there should be provocation and whether the nature of provocation is grave and sudden is a question of fact. Therefore, the facts of the case hold a prominent role in deciding upon the grant to the accused.
In K.M.nanavati v. State of Maharashtra, the Supreme Court concluded with four propositions to derive the test for grave and sudden provocation and are as follows:
- Whether a reasonable man, belonging to the same class of society as of the accused, if placed in the situation in which the accused was placed would be so provoked as to lose his self-control.
- Words and gestures may also cause grave and sudden provocation.
- Mental background created by the previous conduct of the victim may also be taken into consideration in ascertaining whether the subsequent act caused grave and sudden provocation.
- There should be no room for premeditation and calculation, as the homicide should be clearly traced to the influence of passion arising from the provocation and not after the passion had cooled down.
Justice K.Subba Rao in K.M.Nanavati’s judgment opined that there is no set standard for the application of the doctrine of grave and sudden provocation. What a reasonable man will do in certain circumstances purely depends on the customs, manners, ways of life, traditions, values, the cultural, social, and emotional background of the family or society to which the accused belongs.
In D.P.P v Camplin, the court defines ‘Reasonable person’ as a person not exceptionally excitable or pugnacious, having the power of self-control to be expected of an ordinary person. In Mahmood v State, the court opined “…… a reasonable person ceases to be reasonable when his passions get out of control and he kills a human being.” The test for grave and sudden provocation does not cover unusual excitable and pugnacious persons and is only applicable to a reasonable man as laid down, by the Court of Criminal Appeal, in Rex v lesbini.
Yet another critical essential for a case to fall under this exception is that the provocation must not only be grave but sudden as well. Within this exception, grave provocation simply means when a human’s ability to make proper judgment ceases to exist and violent arising passion takes over the mind of the accused. In the case of R v Duffy, provocation has been illustrated as “the fact that it causes, or may cause, a sudden and temporary loss of self-control.”
In R v lesbini, the court also considered the following points while applying the tests-
- Whether such a time interval has elapsed since the provocation, which provides sufficient time for a reasonable man to calm down
- Consider the instrument with which the homicide affected, the mode of resentment must bear a reasonable relationship to the provocation.
Answering the question on the scope of the doctrine of grave and sudden provocation, Viscount Simon states in the case of Mancini v Director of Public Prosecution as provocation must be such that it temporarily deprives the accused of the power of self-control as a result of which he commits the unlawful act and causes the death. It is not that all provocation reduced the crime of ‘murder to manslaughter.’
Now, whether the act of the boys, plucking mangoes was so grave in nature that it provoked the accused to shoot down one of the hapless boys, answered by Justice P.N Prakash of the Madras High Court as “however intolerant a man would be towards the activities of lads, would he go to the extent of taking out a rifle and firing at them. The answer may be found in the classic words of Brian LJ, who said, “Devil knoweth what passes in one’s mind”
Analysis of the Supreme Court’s Judgement in Kandasamy Ramaraj
The primary issue the judgment put forth is whether the temperament of the accused should be taken into consideration while deciding a case upon the principles of grave and sudden provocation?
Firstly, the Supreme Court noted that the local boys from the adjoining area entering into the conclave to pluck fruits is a very familiar situation for the retired officer (‘the appellant’) as he had previously indulged in several run-ins with the boys. In fact, the boys had also once damaged the windshield of the appellant’s car. The court also noted the deposition made by domestic help worker that ‘the appellant was a short-tempered person, and used to chase the boys who used to jump into the defense compound to pick almonds’
Secondly, the Supreme court without positively pressing more on the factual circumstances gave due regards to the temperament of the accused and allowed the appeal partially, thereby giving the appellant benefit of ‘sudden and grave provocation’.
The judgment lacks reasoning and is flawed in many aspects. Despite the fact that there have been numerous rulings by the Supreme Court on this particular law, the apex court, in the instant case, decided to take a different path. It also extends the scope of this exception as it now takes short-temperament into account, whereas in the case of Gyanendra Kumar v The state of UP, the Apex court was of the clear view that “it may be that the appellant had an irritable temper but there was no question of any grave provocation much less a sudden provocation.”
The present case does not fit for the exception of grave and sudden provocation as the act of the deceased was not so grave in nature to cause immediate loss of self-control as mere plucking of fruits does not provoke a person to such extent. It was held, in Kanhaiya Lal v Emperor, that the provocation must be so grave in nature that it causes immediate loss of self-control.
Lastly, the Hon’ble Supreme Court gave due weightage to the temperament of the accused and made it a decisive factor while extenuating the sentence of the accused. If this ruling made a precedent, undoubtedly short-tempered person will find themselves on a brighter side of the picture would be treated on a lighter scale.
The accused abstained from acting as a reasonable man, though as an army officer he was supposedly trained to be disciplined and pursue reasonable conduct in such a situation. The act of the deceased and his friends was not so grave in nature which led to the loss of immediate self-control. , The mode of resentment also does not bear a reasonable relationship to the provocation. The essentials of provocation are not fulfilled in the present case and the judgment stands substandard in the eyes of law.
About the Author, Rohan [2019-24] is pursuing B.A.LL.B at Delhi Metropolitan Education affiliated to Guru Gobind Singh Indraprastha University, Delhi.