Palani Goundan v. Emperor (1919)
By: Robin Pandey Date: 05/03/2022
The accused husband struck his wife a violent blow on the side of her head with a ploughshare which rendered her unconscious. He believed her to be dead and in order to lay the foundation for a false defence of suicide by hanging, which he afterwards set up, proceeded to hang her on a beam by a rope. In fact the first blow was not a fatal one and the cause of death was asphyxiation by hanging which was the act of the accused. The accused husband was convicted of murder by the Sessions Judge.
There is a necessary limitation, namely, that the person on whom the bodily injury is inflicted must be a person who is to the knowledge of the accused capable of being killed and that therefore if the accused thinks that the person is dead already he cannot be convicted of culpable homicide.
Whether on the facts as found, the accused has in law committed either the offence of murder or culpable homicide?
Note: On the above mentioned facts, two judges differed as regards the conviction of the accused husband. Justice Napier inclined to the view that he had committed the offence of murder while Justice Sadasiva Ayyar thought he had not. On reference to a larger bench Chief Justice Wallis delivered the verdict.
Madras High Court's Observations (Chief Justice Wallis)
By English Law this would clearly not be murder but man slaughter on the general principles of Common Law. As regards the argument that a person who does an unlawful act, such as trying to conceal a murder, should take the consequences of the same if the act done in furtherance of that unlawful intention results unintentionally in homicide, I need refer only to illustration (c) to Section 299 which indicates that the Indian legislature did not wish to import the artificial rules of the English Law of felony into the Indian Criminal Law.
(2) In India every offence is defined both as to what must be done and with what intention it must be done by the Section of the Penal Code which creates it a crime. There are certain general exceptions laid down in chapter IV, but none of them fits the present case. We must therefore turn to the defining Section 299. Section 299 defines culpable homicide as the act of causing death with one of three intentions:
(a) Of causing death
(b) Of causing such bodily injury as is likely to cause death,
(c) Of doing something which the accused knows to be likely to cause death.
3) It is not necessary that any intention should exist with regard to the particular person whose death is caused, as in the familiar example of a shot aimed one person killing another, or poison intended for one being taken by another. Causing death" may be paraphrased as putting an end to human life: and thus all three intentions must be directed either deliberately to putting an end to a human life or to some act which to the knowledge of the accused is likely to eventuate in the putting an end to a human life.
4) The knowledge must have reference to the particular circumstances in which the accused is placed. No doubt if a man cuts the head off from a human body, he does an act which he knows will put an end to life, if it exists. But we think that the intention demanded by the Section must stand in some relation to a Person who either is alive, or who is believed by the accused to be alive. If a man Kills another by shooting at what he believes to be a third person whom he intends to kill, but which is in fact the stump of a tree, it is clear that he would be guilty of culpable homicide. This is because though he had no criminal intention towards any human being actually in existence, he had such an intention towards what he believed to be a living human being.
(5) The conclusion is irresistible that the intention of the accused must be judged not in the light of the actual circumstances, but in the light of what he supposed to be the circumstances. It follows that a man is not guilty of culpable homicide if his intention was directed only to what he believed to be a lifeless body.
(6) Complications may arise when it is arguable that the two acts of the accused should be treated as being really one transaction as in Khandu Case (1891) or when the facts suggest a doubt whether there may not be imputed to the accused a reckless indifference and ignorance as to whether the body he handled was alive or dead, as in Gour Gobindo Case (1866).
The facts of the present case are the same as those found in Dalu Sardar Case (1914). We agree with the decision of the learned judges in that case and with clear intimation of opinion by Sargeant, C.J. in Khandu Case (1891). Though, on the facts as found, the accused cannot be convicted either of murder of culpable homicide, he can of course be punished both for his original assault on his wife and for his attempt to create false evidence by hanging her. Ultimately, the accused husband was convicted for the offence of grievous hurt under Section 326, IPC.
Justice Sadasiva Ayyar's Concurrent Opinion: We have simply to construe the definition of culpable homicide in Section 299. The intention "to cause such bodily injury as is likely to cause death" cannot, in my opinion, mean anything except "bodily injury" to a living human body. If this is not so, then, according to the strict letter of the definition, the relatives who burn the body of a man believing it to be dead would be guilty of culpable homicide. I may even say that it is remarkable that the words "of a human being" are not added in the body of the definition after 'death' and, as the definition stands, the causing of the death of anything with intention will be culpable homicide, which of course is a contradiction in terms. I think after the words "bodily injury" the following words must be understood, namely, "to some living human body or other" [it need not be a particular person's body according to illustration (a) and it may even be the body of another living person than the one intended actually that received the injury