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Importance of Mens Rea in Indian Penal Code

Author-Somya Tiwari, [ILS Law College, Pune]

According to Sir William Blackstone, who were a renounced English jurist, judge and an eminent politician of the eighteenth century “Crime is ‘an act committed or omitted in violation of Public Law forbidding or commanding it[1]. According to John Gillin, Crime is an act that has been shown to be actually harmful to society, or that is believed to be socially harmful by a group of people that has the power to enforce its beliefs, and that places such act under the ban of positive penalties[2]. The essentiality of criminal law has been presumed to rests in the postulate “actus non facit reum nisi mens sit rea.” Bishop writes[3]: ‘ “There can be no crime large or small, without an evil mind. It is, therefore, a principle of our legal system, as probably it is of every other, that the main component of an offense is the wrongful intent, without which it cannot exist.”

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The exploration of the ambit of the term “guilty mind or Mens Rea” in relation to a crime depends upon the context to which the term is referring i.e. whether the crime is essentially committed under the influence of a bad motive or whether the act occurred out of negligence. It is to be noted that an act resulted out of recklessness is not presumed to be done under bad intention per se. The intention is one of the most essential elements of every crime. Mens rea i.e. there must be a guilty mind to commit a criminal act. In other words, the intention is a state of mind that intends to commit an act which is unlawful in nature knowing the evil consequences of the same. No act is per se criminal. It only becomes a crime when the wrongdoer does it with a guilty mind. Intention becomes an important element of a crime under the Indian Penal Code.

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Primarily, Mens Rea was extensively discussed in Queen v. Tolson [4] It was observed that “The full definition of every crime contains expressly or by implication a proposition as to a state of mind” And if in some conditions it is omitted, It is to be presumed that the omission has been done out of necessity e.g. it is not necessary to have a malafide intention against the government of India while committing offenses like sedition, bigamy, and kidnapping. However, the gravity of the abovementioned offenses are considered to be so severe that while defining them in the code, the framers tend to presume that whosoever, commits or even tries to commit these offenses are persuaded through a guilty intention and  could results into catastrophic repercussions, for example, counterfeiting of coins.”  it is clear for the numerous interpretation of the maxim that it is not possible to formulate any general principle or doctrine by which to decide to what extent mens rea is substantial in statutory offenses. But it should be kept in view that it is necessary to examine meticulously the words mentioned in the code, as per the authoritative interpretations and elaborations of the subject-matter given by courts; and if no guidance is available from the Judgement of the courts, then cardinal principles of construction and interpretation should be employed, remembering —There is a strong presumption that there is no liability for the consequences of involuntary conduct i.e. whether the actions are performed in order to exercise of private defense; and that there is still a weak presumption that at common law mens rea is required.

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The term Mens Rea literally is not mentioned anywhere in the Indian Penal Code, although its interpretation is basically categorized into two different ways: First in the chapter of “ General Exceptions” which tries to cover all the offenses which are defined in Indian Penal Code as well as in the other special and regional statues. It essentially lay its emphasis on the general conditions which indicate the situations where there is a guilty act committed in the absence of a bad intention. This illustrates a negative interpretation of the doctrine of Mens rea and the second is that there is clear demarcation made between good and bad intentions under any offense defined in Indian Penal Code in order to gauge the evil intention or motives which are presumed to be adopted in order to commit a crime. The malicious intention is usually indicated by the use of words ‘intentionally’, ‘voluntarily’, ‘fraudulently’, ‘dishonestly’, ‘wantonly’, and so on. By the usage of these terms, The Indian Penal Code tries to give a positive interpretation of the doctrine of mens rea.

REFERENCES:

[1]  Sir William Blackstone, Commentaries on the Laws of England, vol. 4, 17th ed, 1830, p. 5.

[2] John Gillin, Criminology and Penology, 3rd edn, New York, p. 9

[3]  I Criminal Law, 9th Edition (1930) 287.

[4] (1889) 23 QBD 168

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