Soumya Murder Case And The Law Of Homicide And Causation

Adv. John S.Ralph
21 Sep 2016 7:18 AM GMT
Soumya Murder Case And The Law Of Homicide And Causation
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The recent judgment of the Supreme Court in Govindaswamy Vs State of Kerala evoked many legal and emotional issues.

This Article deals only with the legality of the finding of the Supreme Court on “whether the accused is liable for Murder or not”

The Apex Court failed to consider that aspect in the real perspective. And most unfortunately, it failed to consider whether, if not murder, whether it will amount to culpable homicide not amounting to murder punishable U/s 304 IPC, that carries a sentence up to imprisonment for life.

What is Homicide ?

Para 17 of the judgement reads “….However to hold that the accused is liable U/s 302 IPC , what is required is an intention to cause death or knowledge that the act is likely to cause death….” This is mistake committed by the Court. An elaborate discussion to decipher the law on the subject will take volumes. To put it shortly

(1) Intention to cause death is not always necessary in Murder. Intention to cause a serious injury is only required ( See thirdly to section 300 and illustration (c ) to it )

 (2) knowledge that it is likely to cause death comes under Sec 299 IPC and not in section 300 IPC ( though 4thly of 300 speaks about knowledge, it is applied in extreme cases where the Act of the accused is imminently dangerous, and in all probability it should causes death)

Also Read: The Forensic Nuances Of Saumya’s Case, Examined-By Justice V Ramkumar

What is Causation ? 

In the same Para SC held that the proximate cause of death was placing the victim in a supine position that resulted in bleeding and death. The court found “ …..The requisite knowledge that in the circumstances, such an act may cause death also cannot be attributed to the accused ….” And proceeded to conclude that “……”such knowledge is parted in the course of training of medical and para medical staff” This was another mistake committed by the Court, on “causation” in criminal law.

Methods of Analyzing Causation:

The turning of the body that resulted in bleeding was done by the accused. Then the question considered by the court was whether that act was with the knowledge or intention that it will result in death. And found that aspect in favour of the accused. The court should have applied the proper test in deciding the causation. In like situations, “ but for the act of the accused” test is applied. So consider whether turning a body and placing it in a supine position will cause the death of a person ? The answer should be in the negative. Then consider “ why this victim died with that turning of the body ?“ The answer is “ because of the injury caused by the accused “ ( whether the injury is caused by the accused or not is discussed below) The injury herein was at least likely to cause death if not sufficient in the ordinary course of nature to cause death. Then the above test is applied and we get the answer. “ But for the injury caused by the accused ( fall from the train) the victim would not have suffered a bleeding and resultant death by placing in the supine position “ If that be so, the accused will be attributed with the knowledge that it will cause death by applying the objective test. ( even then intention may not be attracted that involves “premeditated malice” ) In the result law will presume that the accused caused the death. This doctrine is called as “ Apparent Intention “ in criminal law. And it is for the accused to prove otherwise and prosecution is exonerated from its liability once the basic facts are proved by it.

To have a clearer understanding of the above let us consider one more example. The accused, in a casual fight, gave a punch on the head of the victim and the victim fell unconscious. Fearing danger, the accused ran away. The unconscious victim remained there in direct sunlight for hours and died due to that. Herein the cause of death is exposure to sunlight. And “but for the Act of the accused”, the deceased would not have suffered the sun stroke. But the injury inflicted by the Accused was a slighter one and was not likely to cause death or sufficient in the ordinary course of nature to cause death. (though it depends on the medical evidence ) In such circumstances the accused will be inflicted only with a lesser sentence either for the blow or for causing the death with an injury that is likely to cause death. And it is for covering such situations, Section 304 IPC reserved punishment ranging from life sentence to a simple fine, depending upon the nature and circumstances of the case. But herein the injury was so grave and hence the accused is liable for the resultant death.

Also Read : Hovering Vultures – Analysis Of Saumya Verdict By Dr. B Umadethan

The Fall and its cause:

Another wrong consideration made by the court was on the consideration whether the victim jumped out or was pushed out. This aspect was not at all required to be considered!!. The court found that Injury No.1 was due to the force applied by the accused by hitting the head of the victim on the compartment wall. If that be so, in all probability, the victim might have jumped out to escape. In such a situation, the law will presume that the jumping is caused by the accused through chain causation. “But for the violence used by the accused “the victim would not have jumped out” for escaping. 13 teeth of the victim were missing in the fall , that shows the impact of the fall. Hence whether the accused pushed the victim out or whether she jumped out should not have been the consideration of the court.

Injury and the Proximity of death: 

Another mistake committed by the Court was to find that since the Victim died only after a few days of the incident at the Hospital, the injury was not that grave to attract Murder. The law is well settled that any medical intervention that only prolonged the death, cannot be taken as a defence. This was even included in our statute way back in 1860 !! ( See Explanation 2 to Section 299 ) But the case may be different when the Victim dies of an intervening cause during the treatment, like administering of a wrong medicine or getting an infection due to improper care in hospital etc. Even in such a case, if the injury was likely to cause death, the offender would be liable for culpable homicide not amounting to murder.

The Hearsay Evidence:

The SC also went on relying on hearsay evidence. According to the evidence in the case, one middle aged man saw the girl jumping out as spoken by PWs 4 and 40. And the court relied on their statements!! (The police could not find out that middle aged man) The court can accept the statement of the said person had that one coming under section 6 of the Evidence Act as res gestae. Suppose the witnesses heard a man shouting “ see a girl is jumping out “ Then it becomes part of the incident coming under section 6. (See Illustration (a) to Sec 6 ) But a statement to the effect that “ I saw a girl jumping out of the train and she escaped, so there is no need to pull the chain and stop the train “ will not attract section 6 , or any other provisions of the Indian Evidence Act. Hence the Court ought not to have considered it.

The only possibility of that statement being used in a trial is that the said person should come before the court and depose that fact and accordingly tender direct evidence on the aspect.

Points for consideration:

 While appreciating the evidence in the matter, the Apex Court should have considered the following

  1. Whether the accused was liable for causing the victim of falling from the train

  2. What is the effect of Section 39 of IPC that defines “ Voluntarily”

  3. If so whether he is liable for injury No.2 ( the fatal head injury )

  4. Whether Injury No.2 is sufficient in the ordinary course of nature to cause death ( if so accused is liable for murder)

  5. If not whether it is likely to cause death ( if so the accused is liable for culpable homicide not amounting to murder)

Instead the Apex Court concluded the matter in an easy manner which tends to suggest that it was the victim’s voluntary act of jumping out of the train without any sufficient cause that resulted in her death. The judgment is not be followed as a precedent in Indian law on the law of Homicide.

John S RalphAdv. John S. Ralph is a Lawyer practising at High Court of Kerala.

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