New Delhi: In a significant judgment, the Supreme Court has expanded the scope of the right to self-defence by holding that it applies not only to âthe defence of oneâs own body against any offence but also to defence of the body of any other personâ.
The right embraces the protection of property, whether oneâs own or another personâs, against offences like theft, robbery, mischief and criminal trespass, the court said.
A bench of Justices A.M. Sapre and R. Subash Reddy gave this ruling recently while acquitting a forest officer in Tamil Nadu who was awarded five yearsâ imprisonment for shooting down a sandalwood smuggler in the Dharm-apuri forest area in 1988. Â
The bench said aÂ mere reasonable apprehension is enough to put the right of self-defence into operation.Â InÂ otherÂ words,Â itÂ isÂ notÂ necessaryÂ Â thatÂ thereÂ shouldÂ beÂ anÂ actualÂ commissionÂ of theÂ offenceÂ inÂ orderÂ toÂ giveÂ riseÂ toÂ theÂ right ofÂ privateÂ defence.
A personÂ who Â facesÂ imminentÂ and reasonable danger ofÂ losing his Â life or limb may in exercise ofÂ self-defence inflict any harmÂ evenÂ extending Â to Â death on his assailantÂ eitherÂ when the assault is attemptedÂ orÂ directlyÂ threatened, it said.
ItÂ isÂ enoughÂ ifÂ theÂ accused apprehends that such an offence is contemplatedÂ andÂ itÂ isÂ likelyÂ toÂ beÂ committed if Â the Â right Â of Â private Â defence Â is Â not exercised, the court ruled.
In private defence, the forceÂ used by the accuse ought not to be wholly disproportionate or much greaterÂ than necessary forÂ protection ofÂ theÂ personÂ or property, said the court.
In the instant case appellant Sukumaran while travelling in his jeep with his driver saw a gang of four persons attempting to smuggle sandalwood from the forest. When he confronted them, they threw stones and attacked him and his driver. Sukumaran opened fire in self-defence which resulted in the death of one of the smugglers.
The trial court awarded life sentence to Sukumaran but acquitted his driver. On appeal, the Madras high court reduced the sentence to five yearsâ imprisonment. The present appeal is directed against this judgment.
Allowing the appeal and acquitting him, Supreme Court bench said,Â âTheÂ appellantÂ wasÂ entitledÂ toÂ exerciseÂ his rightÂ ofÂ private defenceÂ againstÂ theÂ deceased.â
âTheÂ appellantÂ was entitled toÂ chaseÂ theÂ deceasedÂ party andÂ apprehendÂ them for Â being Â prosecuted Â for Â commission of offence punishable under the forest laws. Indeed,Â thatÂ was hisÂ duty,â the Supreme CourtÂ said,
In fact, the appellant while firing the gunshot did not target any particular person out of the four as such but fired to resist their aggression towards him and his driver, the court said.