Culpable Homicide

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Homicide is a word which originated from the Latin term ‘Homo’ which means human and ‘Caedere’ which means killing. The act of homicide is an act that has been a part of human life since the origin of mankind. In the early days of mankind, humans used to kill each other for food or creating dominance. Kings used to commit mass murders in battle fields to conquer kingdoms and people killed each other in the sway of jealousy and greed. 

Homicide means killing of a human being by another human being, often termed as a Crime Of Manslaughter in the law of Scotland and England. It is considered to be the highest order of bodily injury that can be inflicted on a human body. 

Lawful and unlawful Homicide

Homicide is generally classified under two parts, lawful and unlawful homicide. 

Lawful Homicide

A culprit in the case of Homicide cannot always be capable or liable. There may be cases wherein the law will not punish a person for committing homicide. The concept of lawful homicide is derived from this fact, where the accused has a valid reason to commit the crime. It may further be classified into:

1. Excusable Homicide- This includes homicides which are committed with no criminal intent and knowledge. The Indian Penal Code has listed following situations under general exceptions which evade criminal responsibility for homicides. Some of them are-

  • Section 80 of the IPC– Where the death is caused by accident or misfortune and with no criminal intent or knowledge in the doing of an lawful act in a lawful manner with proper care and caution. 
  • Section 82, 83, 84, 85 of the IPC– Where death is caused by a child below 7 years of age or under 12 of immature understanding, of a person of unsound mind or an intoxicated person.
  • Section 88- Where death is caused unintentionally by an act done in good faith, for the benefit of the person killed. 

2. Justifiable Homicide- This law itself legalizes Homicides under particular situations. No criminal liability arises when death is caused under:

  • Section 76 of the IPC– Nothing is an offence which is done by a person who is, or who by reason of mistake of fact and not by reason of mistake of law in good faith believes himself to be, bound by law to do it.
  • Section 77 of the IPC– Nothing is an offence which is done by a judge when acting judicially in the exercise of his power which is, or which in good faith he believes to be, given to him by law.
  • Section 78 of the IPC– Nothing which is done in pursuance of, or which is warranted by the judgement or order of, a court of justice; if done whilst such judgement or order remains in force, is an offence, notwithstanding the court may have had no jurisdiction to pass such judgement or order, provided the person doing the act in good faith believes that the court had such jurisdiction.
  • Section 79 of the IPC– Nothing is an offence which is done by any person who is justified by law, or who by reason of mistake of fact and not by reason of a mistake of law in good faith, believes himself to be justified by law, in doing it.
  • Section 81 of the IPC– 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.
  • Section 96-106 of the IPC– Nothing is an offence which is done in the exercise of the right of private defence.

Unlawful Homicides

Unlawful homicides are such homicides which attract criminal liability, are restricted and prohibited by the State. The person committing unlawful homicide attracts legal penalties and punishments. However the amount of legal penalty given differs as there are different categories of unlawful homicides depending upon the degree of intention, knowledge and recklessness. Few of such homicides are:

  • Section 299 of the IPC– Culpable Homicides.
  • Section 300 of the IPC– Murder.
  • Section 304A of the IPC– Death By Negligence.
  • Section 304B of the IPC– Dowry Death.

Culpable Homicide

The Indian Penal Code has defined culpable homicide in a simple fashion under section 299 and termed it as manslaughter, which means unlawful killing of another man with malice expressed or implied. Under English law culpable homicide is the genus and followed by murder which is a species of culpable homicide defined under section 300. 

According to Section 299  Culpable Homicide is defined as “Whoever causes death by doing an act with the intention of causing death, or with the intention of causing such bodily injury as likely to cause death, or with the knowledge that he is likely by doing such act to cause death, commit an offence of Culpable Homicide.”

Illustrations Of Culpable Homicides

  • A lays stick and turf over a pit, with the intention of thereby causing death or with the knowledge that death is likely to be thereby caused. Z believing the ground to be firm, treads on it, falls and is killed. In this case A has committed the offence of culpable homicide. 
  • A knows Z to be behind the bush. B does not know it. A intending to cause or knowing it  likely to cause Z’s death, induces B to fire at the bush. B fires and kills Z. Here B may be guilty of no offence, but A has committed the offence of culpable homicide.
  • A by shooting at a fowl with intent to kill and steal it, kills B who is behind the bush. Here A although was doing an unlawful act, he was not guilty of culpable homicide, as he did not intend to kill B or to cause death by doing an act that he knew is likely to cause death.

Forms of Culpable Homicide  

  • A person who causes bodily injury to another who is laboring under a disease, disorder or bodily infirmity, and thereby accelerates the death of that other shall be deemed to have caused his death. 
  • Where death is caused by body injury, the person who causes such bodily injury shall be deemed to have caused his death, although by resorting to proper remedies and skillful treatment the death might have been prevented.
  • The causing of the death of a child in the mother’s womb is not culpable homicide. But it may amount to culpable homicide to cause the death of a living child, if any part of that child has been brought forth, though the child may not be breathing or completely born.

Classification of Culpable Homicide

It was held in the case of Nara Singh Challan vs State of Orissa, that section 299 of the IPC is the genus and Section 300 of IPC is its species. Hence there are no independent sections regarding culpable homicide not amounting to murder, it is a part of Section 300 of the IPC which defines murder. 

The court also observed that, for deciding the proper punishment which is proportionate to the current offence, IPC has divided culpable homicide into 3 degrees:

  • Culpable Homicide of the first degree is the gravest form of culpable homicide, which is termed as Murder. It is defined under section 300 and punishable under section 302 with death or imprisonment for life to either which fine may be added. 
  • Culpable homicide of the second degree (culpable homicide not amounting to murder) has been defined under section 300, Exception 1 to 5 and section 299 clauses 1 and 2, is punishable under section 304 Part 1, imprisonment for life or imprisonment of either description for a term which may extend to ten years, to either which fine may be added.
  • Culpable homicide of third degree which is defined under section 299 clause 3, is punishable under the latter part of the section 304 with fine, or with imprisonment upto a limit of 10 years or with both.

All murders are culpable homicide, but all culpable homicide are not murder

In the case of Riaz-ud-din Sheikh vs Emperor (1910), it was held that “All culpable homicide are not murder, but all murders are culpable homicide.” Subject to 5 exceptions of Section 300 IPC, every act that falls within one or more of the 4 clauses of Section 300 of the IPC, is murder and also falls within the definition of culpable homicide in section 299 of IPC. However Every act that falls within any one or more of the 4 clauses of section 300 of the IPC in respect of which there co-exist one or more of the sets of circumstances described in the five exceptions of that section, is by that act taken out of section 300 of the IPC, but the act notwithstanding continues to be within section 299 and since it is not murder, is it culpable homicide not amounting to murder”. 

Therefore every act that falls within section 299 and does not fall within section 300, since it is not murder, is culpable homicide not amounting to murder.

Essential elements of Culpable Homicide

Culpable homicide is the first kind of unlawful homicide as defined in section 299 IPC. It defines and explains as to when an act of causing death constitutes culpable homicide. The important elements are:

  • Causing the death of a human being.
  • Such death must have been caused by an act.
  • With the intention of causing such bodily injury as is likely to cause death.
  • With the knowledge that the act is likely to cause death of a person.

In the case of Behari versus State of UP (1953), it was held that though the act may cause death, it will not amount to culpable homicide unless the above conditions are satisfied. Therefore the fact that death of a human being is caused is not enough, unless one of the mental states mentioned in the ingredients is present.

In the case mentioned above, a constable who was carrying a loaded defective gun, wanting to arrest an accused who was going on a bullock cart scuffled with him and in the course of which the gun went off and the constable was killed. In such cases the accused cannot be held guilty of culpable homicide as there was no intention to cause death and no knowledge that the death may be caused was present. 

Circumstances of Culpable Homicide

  • Causing Death- In order to hold a person liable under the impugned section, there must be cause of death of a human being as defined under section 46 of IPC. However according to the (explanation 3) stated in the section 299 of the IPC which talks about causing the death of a child in the mother’s womb is not  homicide. But the person causing the death would be punished for causing miscarriage either under section 312 or section 315 of the IPC depending on the gravity of the injury. The death must be of a living human being which means a living man, woman, and of a child even though the child may not have been breathing or completely born.
  • Death caused of a person other than intended- Section 301 of IPC states that if a person by doing anything with the intention and knowledge that such acts is likely to cause the death, commits culpable homicide by causing the death of some other person whose death he neither intends nor knows himself to be likely to cause, will be held liable for culpable homicide of the same description. For example-  A convinces B to poison his mother. B accordingly obtains the poison from A and gives to his mother mixing it with an apple. The mother gives the Apple to the child of B, not knowing it contains poison. The child eats it and dies. In such a case the act of A amounts to murder by B, though he never intended to kill the child. 

In the case of Public Prosecutor vs MS Murthy (1912), the accused with the intention of killing Narasimhulu (on whose life he had taken out considerable insurance without the latter’s knowledge) and in order to obtain the insured amount gives him sweets with mixed poison. The intended victim ate some sweets and threw the rest away which were picked up by two children who ate them and died of poisoning. It was held by the court that the accused was liable for the murder of the childrens though he intended only to kill Narasimhulu.

  • Death caused by Effects Of Words- There may be cases wherein death is caused by the effect of words. In such a situation the accused will be liable to the same extent as in the case of a physical assault causing death. Lord Macaulay while drafting the IPC said that “ the reasonable course, in our opinion, is to consider speaking as an act and to treat A guilty of voluntary culpable homicide, if by speaking he has voluntary caused Z’s death, whether his words operated circuitously by inducing Z to swallow a poison or directly by throwing Z into convulsion.”

For instance- A is suffering from Aneurysm ( abnormal dilation of blood vessels). B knows about it, and rushes into the room and shouts into his ear that ‘Your wife is dead’ intending to kill and in fact kills him. Here B will be held liable in the same manner and to the same extent as he would have been if he had mixed poison in his medicine.

  • By doing an Act- Death may be caused by hundreds of means, such as by poisoning, drowning, striking, beating etc. However as explained under Section 32 of the IPC the word “Act” has been given a wider meaning in the IPC in as much as it includes not only an act of commission, but illegal omission as well. In the case of Om Prakash vs State of Punjab (1961), Bimla Devi was married to the appellant and their relations got stained in 1953. She was ill treated and her health deteriorated due to maltreatment and undernourishment. Sometimes she was deliberately starved and not allowed to leave the house and was treated like a beggar. Later she escaped and was admitted to the civil hospital. The suit was brought against the appellant. 

The court held that the word Act in section 307 did not mean only a particular act of a person, but denoted according to Section 33 of the code as a series of acts. In the present case the course of conduct adopted by the appellant in regularly starving his wife Bimla, comprised a series of acts which though they fell short of completing the series sufficient to kill her, came within the purview of section 307 of the IPC. The High Court thereafter was right in convicting the appellant under that section.

  • Death Caused Inadvertently without intention while doing an unlawful act- The Indian Penal Code has made it clear in the illustration (c) under section 299, that a person will not be liable for culpable homicide, if he causes the death of a person while doing an unlawful act, provided he did not intend to kill or cause death by doing an act that he know is likely to have that effect.

For instance- A, a pickpocketer attempts to take out the purse of B, while B was boarding a train. B had a loaded pistol in his pocket, the pistol goes off and B is shot dead. A will be liable for an attempt to pickpocket, but not for murder and culpable homicide. The death of B is purely an account of an accident and misfortune for which the thief is not accountable. On the other hand under English law, if a person whilst committing an unlawful act accidentally kills another, he would be liable for manslaughter or murder according to whether his act constituted a felony or misdemeanor. 

  • Mental Element in Culpable Homicide

The word intention in clause (a) of section 299 IPC has been used in an ordinary sense i.e. an act voluntarily done without being able to foresee the consequences with certitude. As a general rule, every sane man is ‘presumed to intend’ the necessary or natural and probable consequences of his acts, and this presumption of law will prevail unless from consideration of all the evidence the court entertains a reasonable doubt as to whether such intention existed. For instance- If a man throws a child from the top 20-storey building, it is evident that he intends the child’s death. An accused must be judged on the basis of his intention which is indicated by his proven acts. 

Intention in section 299 refers to either the death itself, or a bodily injury which is likely to cause death or the knowledge that his acts are likely to cause death per se. Thus all three points prove that Mens Rea is an essential element of Culpable Homicide. However there may be a situation where there is no mens rea present and the death of a man is caused as a consequence of rash or negligent act of the accused. 

For example- A drives a motor car while he is feeling sleepy and loses control over the vehicle, collides with the tree resulting in the death of one of the passengers. Here the death is neither caused intentionally nor with the knowledge that the act is likely to cause death. Nevertheless A is liable for the death of the passenger and will be held responsible for having caused death by negligence under section 304A of the IPC.


Stephen, A History of the Criminal Law of England, Vol III, 1883, p1, Russell on Crime, 12th Edition, Turner JWC, 1964, pp 399-464, Moreland Roy, The Law of Homicides, pp 1-8.

K.D. Gaur, Textbook on Indian Penal Code, Seventh Edition, 2020, Chapter XVI, Page Number 668, Culpable Homicide.

Gour Hari Singh, The Penal Code Of Indian, 11th Edition, (2000) vol III, pp 2367 to 2369.

Macaulay, Draft Of Indian Penal Code, p148.

Public Prosecutor vs M.S. Moorthy, (1912), 13 Cr Lj 145 (146) (Mad).

Behari vs State Of Uttar Pradesh, AIR 1953 All 203.

Reaz-ud-din Shaikh vs Emperor (1910) 11 Cr Lj 295.

Om Prakash Kapoor vs State Of Punjab, AIR (1961) SC 1782.

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