Section 81 of the Indian Penal Code embodies the doctrine of necessity, It states that nothing is an offence merely by reason of its being done with the knowledge that it is likely to cause harm, if it be done without any criminal intention to cause harm, and in good faith for the purpose of preventing or avoiding other harm, normally greater harm, to person or property.
Doctrine of Necessity
The doctrine of necessity is a legal principle that allows individuals to act in ways that would normally be illegal or unethical in order to protect the greater good or prevent greater harm from occurring. This doctrine is based on the idea that in certain situations, the need to prevent greater harm or protect a greater good can justify actions that might otherwise be considered unlawful or immoral.
The doctrine of necessity is often invoked in situations of emergency or crisis, where there is a need to act quickly and decisively in order to prevent greater harm from occurring. It is also used to justify actions taken by individuals who are trying to protect themselves or others from harm.
The doctrine of necessity is not a blanket defense that can be used to justify any action taken under the guise of preventing greater harm. It must be shown that the actions taken were necessary and that there was no other reasonable way to prevent the harm from occurring. The doctrine of necessity is typically only used in exceptional circumstances and is not intended to be used as a regular excuse for breaking the law.
Section 81 of the Indian Penal Code -
Act likely to cause harm, but done without criminal intent, and to prevent other harm —
As per Section 80 of the Code, Nothing is an offence merely by reason of its being done with the knowledge that it is likely to cause harm if it be done without any criminal intention to cause harm, and in good faith for the purpose of preventing or avoiding other harm to person or property.
It is a question of fact in such a case whether the harm to be prevented or avoided was of such a nature and so imminent as to justify or excuse the risk of doing the act with the knowledge that it was likely to cause harm.
(a) A, the captain of a steam vessel, suddenly, and without any fault or negligence on his part, finds himself in such a position that, before he can stop his vessel, he must inevitably run down a boat B, with twenty or thirty passengers on board, unless he changes the course of his vessel, and that, by changing his course, he must incur risk of running down a boat C with only two passengers on board, which he may possibly clear. Here, if A alters his course without any intention to run down the boat C and in good faith for the purpose of avoiding danger to the passengers in the boat B, he is not guilty of an offence, though he may run down the boat C by doing an act which he knew was likely to cause that effect, if it be found as a matter of fact that the danger which he intended to avoid was such as to excuse him in incurring the risk of running down C.
(b) A, in a great fire, pulls down houses in order to prevent the conflagration from spreading. He does this with the intention in good faith of saving human life or property. Here, if it be found that the harm to be prevented was of such a nature and so imminent as to excuse A's act, A is not guilty of the offence.
The principle recognized by Section 81 is based on the well-known maxim necessitas non habet legern (necessity knows no law).
For Section 81 to apply, the following conditions must be fulfilled:
1) The act must have been done without criminal intention (mens rea);
2) It must have been done in good faith; and
3) It must have been done in order to prevent or avoid other (greater) harm.
R v Dudley and Stephens
R v Dudley and Stephens is a famous English legal case that involved the doctrine of necessity. The case involved four men who were shipwrecked and stranded on a lifeboat in the middle of the ocean. After several days without food and water, the men decided to kill and eat one of their comrades (Young Boy) in order to survive. They were eventually rescued by a passing ship and charged with murder.
During the trial, the defendants argued that they were justified in killing and eating their comrade because it was necessary to save their own lives. They argued that the doctrine of necessity applied in their case, as they were facing a situation of extreme necessity and had no other reasonable means of survival.
The court rejected this argument and found the defendants guilty of murder. The judge stated that the doctrine of necessity could not be used to justify the killing of another person, even in a situation of extreme necessity. The defendants were sentenced to death, but the sentence was later commuted to six months in prison.
The case of R v Dudley and Stephens is often cited as an example of the limits of the doctrine of necessity, as it demonstrated that the doctrine could not be used to justify the taking of another person's life.
What is Mens Rea and what are the exceptions to the Doctrine Mens Rea?
Right of Private Defence (Section 96 to 106 IPC): Indian Penal Code 1860
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