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Meaning of Crime under Indian Penal Code

 Meaning of Crime under Indian Penal Code

By Shweta Nair

The Indian Penal Code is the official criminal code of India. It owes its origin to Jeremy Bentham who gave the meaning of crime under IPC and came into force on 1st January, 1862. It consists of 23 chapters and 511 sections. In Criminal Administration of Justice, the focus of attention is entirely upon the wrong doer. The law tries to use the wrongful act in question as an X- ray to look into the mind of wrong-doer and to accordingly meet out punishment. The society considers crimes to be much more harmful, serious and grave than civil wrongs. This is because conviction is a resultant outcome of being found guilty of having committed a crime. 

The question of ‘What is a crime in our criminal jurisprudence’ is answered by the Latin maxim ‘Actus Non Facit Reum Nisi Mens Sit Rea’ which means ‘No act is an offence unless it is accompanied by an evil intention’. The act by itself does not constitute guilt unless it is done with a guilty intent. For an act to be illegal, the person should do it with a guilty mind for conviction requires proof of a criminal act as well as intent. 

Therefore, it has to be noted that every offence has to have a physical element (Actus Reus) and a mental element (Mens Rea). 

Therefore, offence = Actus Reus + Mens Rea

Crime = Wrongful Act + Evil Intention 

Both these ingredients are essential components of a crime. 

Therefore, they have to be present together in order that the accused is found to be culpable. 

The highest degree of evil intention in a person’s mind would not be punishable if it does not transcend into a wrongful act. Similarly, a wrongful act by itself is not culpable unless it is driven by an evil intention however it is only when an objectionable act is committed that the matter comes before us thereafter it is the presence of Mens Rea and the degree thereof which will determine whether or not the said act would be considered to be a crime and if so, what would be the punishment prescribed. Therefore, the concept of Mens Rea becomes supremely important. 

However, Mens Rea is not to be narrowly interpreted to mean evil intention. In the case Chisholm v. Doulton, Judge Cave has aptly stated that the term ‘Mens Rea’ should be interpreted to mean ‘A Blameworthy condition of mind’. Therefore, acts of rashness, negligence, carelessness etc. also falls within the purview of Mens Rea. 

The Indian Penal Code used many different words other than intention such as knowledge, negligently, dishonestly, fraudulently etc. 

It is also to be noted that there are few offences in the IPC and in Criminal Law which are made an exception to the doctrine of Mens Rea. For example, 

  • Kidnapping, Statutory Rape- Here, the law seeks to protect a certain class of people that is young children with impressionable age. Since, they have not developed maturity of understanding what is not good for them. Hence, the act itself when done with respect to such person is punishable. 

  • Offences of Strict Liability- Such as possession of illegal arms, waging war against the state etc. do not require proof of Mens Rea. 

  • Petty Offences where it would be difficult to prove intent such as Violation of traffic rules, no parking, public nuisance etc. 

Having appreciated that Mens Rea i.e., the state of mind behind the act is the most important component of the crime. The question arises that ‘how then does the law determine the existence of Mens Rea and the intensity thereof’. An unknown element is often equated with the known factor in order to gain an insight into its meaning and dimensions. For example, if one does not know what is a yen? (Japanese Currency) and if he is told that one yen is equal to .70 Indian Rupees then he may get a fair idea of what a yen is. Similarly, in the absence of any known scientific method for determining the Mens Rea behind an act. The law equates it with the known element of ‘Facts and Circumstances’ of the case. But before considering the facts and circumstances, the law equips itself with the presumption that every person is presumed to know and intend the normal and natural consequences of his act. 

Thereafter, by a careful consideration of the facts and circumstances of the case, the judge arrives at an informed decision as to the presence and degree of Mens Rea behind the act. 

For example, given a case of Murder, the facts that might be considered are: 

  • Nature of the weapon used.

  • Part of the body too and number of blows inflicted. 

  • Time and Place of the occurrence. 

  • Relationship between the parties. 

  • Background of the Offender. 

  • Conduct of the accused before and after the occurrence etc. 

After carefully perusing all such known facts, the judge is able to gauge the Mens Rea and the consequent culpability. 


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