Sukumaran opened fire in self-defence which resulted in the death of one of the smugglers.
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 “the defence of one’s own body against any offence but also to defence of the body of any other person”.
The right embraces the protection of property, whether one’s own or another person’s, 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 years’ imprisonment for shooting down a sandalwood smuggler in the Dharm-apuri forest area in 1988.
The bench said a mere reasonable apprehension is enough to put the right of self-defence into operation. In other words, it is not necessary that there should be an actual commission of the offence in order to give rise to the right of private defence.
A person who faces imminent and reasonable danger of losing his life or limb may in exercise of self-defence inflict any harm even extending to death on his assailant either when the assault is attempted or directly threatened, it said.
It is enough if the accused apprehends that such an offence is contemplated and it is likely to be committed if the right of private defence is not exercised, the court ruled.
In private defence, the force used by the accuse ought not to be wholly disproportionate or much greater than necessary for protection of the person 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 years’ imprisonment. The present appeal is directed against this judgment.
Allowing the appeal and acquitting him, Supreme Court bench said, “The appellant was entitled to exercise his right of private defence against the deceased.”
“The appellant was entitled to chase the deceased party and apprehend them for being prosecuted for commission of offence punishable under the forest laws. Indeed, that was his duty,” the Supreme Court 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.