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Court seal on right to self-defence

New Delhi, Aug. 28: The Supreme Court has let off two persons convicted by Madras High Court for inflicting injuries on their tormentors, ruling that right to self-defence “should be liberally construed”.

A division bench of Justice Santosh N. Hegde and Justice B.P. Singh said: “Law does not require a person whose property is forcibly tried to be occupied by trespassers to run away and seek the protection of authorities.”

The judges cited an earlier decision to underline that “the right of private defence serves a social purpose and that right should be liberally construed. Such a right not only will be a restraining influence on bad characters but it will encourage the right spirit in a free citizen.” They added that there was “nothing more degrading to the human spirit than to run away in the face of peril”.

Subramani, a resident of Tamil Nadu, and a few others had resisted a group of people who had come to grab their land. Several of the aggressors were seriously injured in the clash. While Madras High Court acquitted Subramani and the others of the charges of attempt to murder, it convicted them for causing grievous hurt and injury.

The accused then appealed to the Supreme Court, which said “the appellants (Subramani and others) were fully justified in defending their possession as well as their person”.

The apex court said they were also assaulted by the aggressors and in self-defence the appellants had to hit back as the assault of the attackers would have resulted in “grievous hurt, if not death” to the appellants.

The court said the argument that the appellants did not have the right of private defence “must be rejected”, especially in view of the fact that the appellants did not exceed the right to self or private defence. “Once it is held that the appellants did not exceed their right of private defence, it must logically follow that they cannot be convicted of the offences” made out in the prosecution, it said.

The court also said “circumstances” justified the apprehension of the appellants that the aggressors would cause them grievous hurt. In such a situation, private defence was inevitable.

“It is well settled that the onus which rests on the accused person under Section 105 of the Evidence Act to establish his plea of private defence is not as onerous as the unshifting burden which lies on the prosecution to establish every ingredient of the offence with which the accused is charged, beyond reasonable doubt,” the judges said.

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