Introduction to Indian Penal Code (IPC)
Mr. Paramjeet Sangwan

Introduction to Indian Penal Code (IPC)

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The substantive criminal law of India is codified in the Indian Penal Code while adjective law relating to procedure is mentioned in The Code of Criminal Procedure.  


The following are some of the essential elements of commission of crime which must be kept in mind at the time of proper appreciation of criminal law.   


Mental ElementIntention, motive, mens rea, knowledge, innocence, mistake of fact, mistake of law, are some of the mental elements which play vital role in criminal law.  


Intention.—"Criminal intention" simply means the purpose or design of doing an act forbidden by the criminal law without just cause or excuse. The intention of the accused to produce a particular consequence shows his intention to do that act. An act is intentional if it exists in idea before it exists in fact, the idea realizing itself in the fact because of the desire by which it is accompanied. The word  'intent' does not mean ultimate aim and object. Nor is it used as a synonym for 'motive'.   


Where the Legislature makes an offence dependent on proof of intention, the Court must have proof of facts sufficient to justify it in coming to the conclusion that the intention existed. No doubt one has usually to infer intention from conduct, and one matter that has to be taken into account is the probable effect of the conduct.  


As a general rule, every sane man is presumed to intend the necessary or the natural and probable consequences of his acts, and this presumption of law will prevail unless from a consideration of all the evidence, the Court entertains a reasonable doubt whether such intention existed. This presumption, however, is not conclusive nor alone sufficient to justify a conviction and should be supplemented by other testimony. An accused must be judged to have the intention that is indicated by his proved acts. The burden of proving guilty intention lies upon the prosecution where the intent is expressly stated as part of the definition of the crime. Criminal intent as a psychological fact has to be proved even in regard to offences under the Special Acts unless it is specifically ruled out or ruled out by necessary implication.    

Motive.—Motive is not to be confused with intention. If a man knows that a certain consequence will follow from his act, it must be presumed in law that he intended that consequence to take place although he may have had some quite different ulterior motive for performing the act. The motive for an act is not a  sufficient test to determine its criminal character. By motive is meant anything that can contribute to, give birth to, or even to prevent, any kind of action. Motive may serve as a clue to the intention; but although the motive be pure, the act done under it may be criminal. Purity of motive does not purge an act of its criminal character. An act which is unlawful cannot, in law, be excused on the ground that it was committed from a good motive.  

Motive, though not a sine qua non for bringing the offence home to the accused, is relevant and important on the question of intention.  


Although the prosecution is not bound to prove motive for the crime, absence of any motive is a factor which may be considered in determining the guilt of the accused. Thus, if there is really no motive and the crime is completely motiveless then that circumstance can be taken into consideration along with the evidence of prior insanity. But if the actual evidence as to the commission of the crime is believed, then no question of motive remains to be established. It is not the bounden duty of the prosecution to prove motive with which a certain offence has been committed. It is sufficient if the prosecution prove by clear and reliable evidence that certain persons committed the offence, whatever the motives may be which induced them to commit that offence. For, motive is a fact very often within the special knowledge of the person doing the act and thus it becomes extremely difficult to ascertain the motive in a given case but that does not mean that the offence was not committed.  


The question of motive is not material where there is direct evidence of the acts of the accused and the acts themselves are sufficient to disclose the intention of the actor. But in cases of circumstantial evidence, absence of motive is a factor in favour of the accused.  


Mens rea.—It is one of the principles of the English criminal law that a crime is not committed if the mind of the person doing the act in question be innocent. It is said that actus non facit reum, nisi mens sit rea (the intent and act must both concur to constitute the crime). Although prima facie and as a general rule there must be a mind at  THE INDIAN PENAL CODE, 1860  


fault before there can be a crime, it is not an inflexible rule, and a statute may relate to such a subject-matter and may be so framed as to make an act criminal whether there has been any intention to break the law or otherwise to do wrong or not.  


The full definition of every crime contains expressly or by implication a proposition as to the state of mind. Therefore, if the mental element of any conduct alleged to be a crime is proved to have been absent in any given case, the crime so defined is not committed; or, again, if a crime is fully defined, nothing amounts to that crime which does not satisfy that definition.  


It, therefore, appears that the above maxim has not so wide an application as it is sometimes considered to have. It has undergone a modification owing to the greater precision of modern statutes. It is impossible to apply it generally to all statutes, and the substance of all the reported cases is that it is necessary to look at the object of each Act that is under consideration to see whether and how far knowledge is of the essence of the offence created. Crimes are at the present day much more accurately defined by statutes or otherwise than they formerly were.  


Mens rea is an essential ingredient of every offence except in three cases:   


  1. cases not criminal in any real sense but which in the public interest are prohibited under a penalty, e.g., Revenue Acts;   
  2. public nuisance;   
  3. cases criminal in form but which are really only a summary mode of enforcing a civil right.  


The maxim actus non facit reum, nisi mens sit rea has, however, no application to the offences under the Penal Code in its purely technical sense because the definitions of various offences contain expressly propositions as to the state of  mind of the accused. The definitions state whether the act must have been done 'intentionally', 'voluntarily', 'knowingly', 'dishonestly' or 'fraudulently', or the like. Every ingredient of the offence is stated in the definitions. So mens rea will mean one thing or another according to the particular offence. The guilty mind may thus be a fraudulent mind, or a dishonest mind, or a negligent or rash mind. Every offence under the Code virtually imports the idea of criminal 

intent or mens rea in some form or other. If, in any case, the  THE INDIAN PENAL CODE, 1860  


Indian Legislature has omitted to prescribe a particular mental condition, the presumption is that the omission is intentional. In such a case the doctrine of mens rea is not applicable.  


Only limited and exceptional class of offences can be committed without a guilty mind. The Court should always bear in mind that unless the statute, either clearly or by necessary implication, rules out mens rea as a constituent part of a crime, an accused should not be found guilty of an offence under the criminal law unless he has got a guilty mind. Absolute liability is not to be lightly presumed but has to be clearly established.  


Knowledge.—Where knowledge of a fact is an essential ingredient of an offence it must be distinctly proved. There are certain offences in the Penal Code where the accused who commits those offences is punished irrespective of the fact whether he had knowledge or not. Where a particular act is forbidden the question of knowledge becomes immaterial.  


Innocence.—The law presumes innocence until guilt is proved. The onus of proving everything essential to the establishment of the charge against the accused lies upon the prosecution. Every man is to be regarded as legally innocent until the contrary be proved. Criminality is therefore never to be presumed. The evidence must be such as to exclude, to a moral certainty, every reasonable doubt regarding the guilt of the accused. If there be any reasonable doubt about the guilt of the accused, he is entitled as of right to be acquitted.  


The more heinous and improbable a crime is, the greater is the force of the evidence required to overcome the presumption of innocence. Where the facts found proved in a case are perfectly consistent either with the innocence or guilt of the accused the presumption of innocence should prevail. The presumption of innocence in criminal cases signifies no more than that if the commission of a crime is directly in issue, it must be proved beyond reasonable doubt. The proof of guilt must depend on positive affirmation, and cannot be inferred from mere absence of explanation. The prosecution cannot be permitted to take advantage of the weakness of the defence case. The case for the prosecution has to be proved beyond all shadow of reasonable doubt de hors this weakness. Further, suspicion however strong is not proof. In other words, the persuasion of guilt ought to amount to a moral certainty.  THE INDIAN PENAL CODE, 1860  



Where facts are as consistent with the prisoner's innocence as well as with his  guilt, innocence must be presumed; and criminal intent or knowledge is not necessarily imputable to every man who acts contrary to the provisions of the law.  


Culpable possession, knowledge, or motive, may overthrow the presumption of innocence and raise in its place a presumption of guilt.  


Mistake of factMistake, as the term is used in jurisprudence, is an erroneous mental condition, conception or conviction induced by ignorance, misapprehension, or misunderstanding of the truth, and resulting in some act or omission done or suffered erroneously by one or both of the parties to a transaction, but without its erroneous character being intended or known at the time, it may concern either the law or the facts involved.  


A mistake of fact consists in an unconsciousness, ignorance, or forgetfulness of a fact, past or present, material to the transaction, or in the belief of the present existence of a thing material to the transaction, which does not exist, or in the past existence of a thing which has not existed.  


Under the Penal Code the mistake must be one of fact and not of law. Where, through a mistake, a man, intending to do a lawful act; does that which is unlawful, the deed and the will act separately; there is not that conjunction between them which is necessary to form a criminal act. But where an act is clearly a wrong in itself, and a person, under a mistaken impression as to the facts which render it criminal, commits that act, he will be guilty of a criminal offence. Thus a burglar cannot escape punishment by saying that he entered a wrong house through mistake, nor can a murderer be heard to say that the deceased was not his intended victim. In either case the mistake of fact is no excuse.  


Mistake of law.—A mistake of law happens when a party having full knowledge of the facts comes to an erroneous conclusion as to their legal effect. Mistake in point of law in criminal cases is no defence. Mistake of law ordinarily means mistake as to the existence or otherwise of any law on a relevant subject as well as mistake as to what the law is.   



If any individual should infringe the statute law of the country through ignorance or carelessness, he must abide by the consequences of his error; it is not open to him to aver in a Court of Justice that he was ignorant of the criminal law of the land, and no Court of justice is at liberty to entertain such a plea.  


The maxim ignorantia juris non excusat, (ignorance of law excuses no one), in its application to criminal offences, admits of no exception, not even in the case of a foreigner who cannot reasonably be supposed in fact to know the law of the land. It is indeed a legal fiction to suppose that everyone knows the law of the land, but it is a fiction which is so basic that without it the administration of criminal justice would come to a standstill. Public policy requires it; expediency demands it to circumvent unsurmountable difficulties which the Courts will otherwise face. Without it, there will be no end to which such an excuse would be pressed into service.  


Although a person commits an act which is made an offence for the first time by a statute so recently passed as to render it impossible that any notice of the passing of the statute could have reached the place where the offence has been committed, yet his ignorance of the statute will not save the accused from punishment.  

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