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A run-through of General Exceptions to Criminal liability

Written by: Hridya Harikumar

Introduction :

General exceptions to criminal liability are instances in which an individual may not be held guilty of an offense despite having done the act constituting the offence. These defences are provided in Chapter IV of the Indian Penal Code as "General Exceptions.” Sections 76 to 106 of the IPC cover the exceptions. These defences are dependent on the situation at the time, a person's intent, and the reasonableness of his action. In particular circumstances, they can be used to avoid criminal liability.

Section 6 of the Indian Penal Code stipulates that all offences, penal provisions, definitions, and illustrations in the IPC are to be read with the exceptions stated in Chapter IV. Furthermore, as per Section 105 of the Indian Evidence Act, the accused bears the burden of proving the exceptions to criminal liability.

Classification :

There are two categories of general exceptions under the IPC: Excusable and Justifiable acts.

The first category includes the exceptions such as mistakes of fact, accidents, infancy, insanity, and drunkenness. Mens rea or the mental element, is wholly absent in the case of excusable acts. These are instances of crimes where it is impossible to prove that the offender has a bad character or malicious intent.

A justifiable act implies an act that would be considered wrong under ordinary circumstances, but the situation surrounding the act renders it acceptable. Justifiable acts include acts executed by a judge in response to an order, necessity, consent, communication, compulsion, trivial matters, and private defense. In this category, the acts are justified rather than excused.

General exceptions :

The exceptions are highlighted in Sections 76 to 106 of the IPC, and they are as follows:

1) Mistake of Fact and Mistake of Law (Section 76 and 79 of IPC)

2) Judicial acts (Section 77 and 78, IPC)

3) Accident (Section 80 of IPC)

4) Necessity (Section 81 of IPC)

5) Infancy (Section 82 and 83, IPC)

6) Insanity (Section 84 of IPC)

7) Intoxication (Section 85 and 86, IPC)

8) Consent (Sections 87 to 92)

9) Communication in good faith (Section 93 of IPC)

10) Compulsion (Section 94 of IPC)

11) Trifles (Section 95, IPC)

12) Private Defence (Sections 96 to 106, IPC)

1] Mistake of Fact (Section 76 and 79)

According to Section 76, nothing is considered an offense if the act is carried out by someone who, in good faith, believes that they are bound to do so by the law, and under Section 79, nothing is an offense if it is committed by someone who is justified by the law, or who believes themselves to be justified by the law, as a result of a factual error rather than a mistake of law.

It follows the maxim "ignorantia facti excusat, ignorentia juris non excusat," meaning that one can get away with being ignorant of a fact but not of a law. There should be a mistake of fact rather than a mistake of law to avail a defense under both Sections 76 and 79, and the act ought to have been carried out in good faith.

In M.H. George v. State of Maharashtra [1], the defendant, a German citizen, was accused of violating Section 23A of the Foreign Exchange Regulations Act of 1947 (repealed) by bringing gold into India without the Reserve Bank of India's consent and was convicted. The defendant asserted that he was excused because he was unaware of the rule. However, the court affirmed the dictum "ignorantia facti excusat, ignorentia juris non excusat."

2] Judicial acts (Section 77 and 78)

According to Section 77, nothing a judge does whilst exercising his judicial authority and believing that he has the authority to do so under the law is unlawful. For instance, a judge might execute an accused person without realising that he lacked the authority to do so. If he had done so in good faith, believing that such authority was granted to him by law, he would not be held responsible for any crimes under the IPC.

The person who carries out a court order or judgement is protected by Section 78. It declares that any act made in accordance with an order or judgement that is currently in effect is not an offence. According to Section 78 of the Code, the hangman who carries out a judge's order, for instance, is not responsible for the death of the person to whom the judge has issued a sentence.

3] Accident (Section 80)

In the case of an act committed by accident or misfortune without any criminal knowledge or intent, Section 80 of the IPC provides an exception. The person being charged must show that the act in question was carried out accidentally and without malice. A man is not criminally liable under this section for the unintended and unanticipated effects of his lawful acts carried out in a lawful way by lawful means with due care and caution.

In the case of Jageshwar v. Emperor [2], the defendant was fist-punching the victim. The person's wife interfered, carrying her infant along. The accused struck the woman, but the blow also hit the child on the head, and two days later, the child died as a result of the blow. The accused was not acting lawfully by using lawful means, according to the court, and is therefore not protected by Section 80 of the IPC.

4] Necessity (Section 81)

According to Section 81 of the IPC, a person is not considered to have committed an offence if they acted out of necessity. When the action was taken to avert greater harm, this exception is applicable. If the harm could have been avoided by other means and the offence committed was greater than the injury minimised, then the defence of necessity will become ineffective.

In R v. Dudley and Stephens [3], as there was no food available, the accused individuals, in this case, murdered a boy and ate him in order to preserve their own lives. The court ruled that even though the person who committed the act was in a situation where he believed and had good reason to believe that doing so would save his life, there is no such thing as a right to kill. It was noted that self-preservation is not absolutely necessary.

5] Infancy (Section 82 and 83)

According to Section 82 of the IPC, a child under the age of seven is considered "doli incapax," or incapable of committing a crime. As per Section 83 of the IPC, a child between the ages of seven and twelve may only be charged with a crime if they have reached a level of mental growth that enables them to understand the nature and repercussions of their actions. Unless it is proven that they had the necessary intention to commit the offence, children between the age range of seven and twelve are deemed incapable of committing an offence.

6] Insanity (Section 84 of IPC)

In accordance with Section 84 of the IPC, an individual is not guilty of an offence if, at the time of the act, he was of unsound mind and unable to understand what he was doing or that it was wrong. In order to use the insanity defence, the accused must establish that he was not in a position to know the nature of the act he carried out or that it was wrong at the time he committed it.

In R v. Daniel Mc Naughten [4], the defendant accidentally killed Edward Drummond, the prime minister's secretary, thinking he was Prime Minister Robert Peel. The accused had a morbid delusion, leading him to think Sir Robert Peel had hurt him. He shot and killed Drummond because he mistook him for Sir Robert. The House of Lords upheld the accused's acquittal on the grounds that he was insane at the time he fired the shot.

7] Intoxication (Section 85 and 86, IPC)

A person who is intoxicated at the time of committing the offence and is unable to understand the nature of the act or that his act is wrong or prohibited may claim this exception if the toxic substance is administered to him without his knowledge, against his consent, or forcefully.

Section 86 stipulates that voluntary drunkenness will be spared only if he has the same information as he would if not intoxicated. This indicates that unless intoxication is involuntary, a person with criminal intentions is unlikely to benefit from this provision.

8] Consent (Section 87 to 92)

According to Section 87 of the IPC, an act is not an offence if it is done with the consent of the person who is likely to be impacted by it and the act is not meant to or known to be likely to cause death or serious harm. Section 88 states that an act is not an offence if it is done with the permission of the individual who is likely to be impacted by it, in good faith, and with no purpose to inflict death or harm.

It is not a crime under Section 89 of the IPC if the act is done in good faith for the benefit of an individual without that person's consent and that person cannot provide their assent. In accordance with Section 92, if an act is carried out in good faith for the benefit of a person without their permission and that person cannot provide their assent because of their mental instability, then it is not illegal.

But the defence might include constraints depending on the age or mental competence of the person providing consent. Its foundation is the adage "volenti non fit injuria." Moreover, consent is not a defence in cases of serious offences such as murder, rape, or assault causing great bodily harm, as these offences are against public policy and cannot be defended by the victim's consent.

In Queen v. Poonai Fattemah [5], the accused, claiming to be a snake charmer, deceived the deceased by stating that he possessed the ability to protect him from snake bites. The deceased trusted him, was bitten by a snake, and died as a result. Consent as a defence was denied in this case.

9] Communication (Section 93)

According to this section, if a person conveys any information that causes injury to another but does so in good faith and for the benefit of the individual, the act is not an infraction.

For example, if a doctor tells a patient that he will die from a specific condition, the patient dies of a heart attack. It was the doctor's responsibility to provide such information, which he did in good faith.

10] Compulsion/Duress (Section 94 of IPC)

It refers to circumstances in which a person is coerced into committing an illegal act against their will under the threat of bodily harm or death.

A person who does an offence under pressure or duress of an instant threat of death or grave harm to oneself or another is not guilty of the offence, according to Section 94 of the IPC. The section states that a person who commits an act while under threat is free from penalty, given that the act is not of a character that would cause injury to an innocent person or if there exists no alternative way to avoid the harm.

11] Trifles or Trivial acts (Section 95)

Section 95 of the IPC addresses the defence of trifles. This is elucidated by the saying "de minimis non curat lex," which indicates that the law is unconcerned with minor nuances. In this scenario, the injury is minor, and no reasonable person would complain about it; hence, there is no crime.

In Veeda Menezes v. Yusuf Khan [6], there was an argument between the appellant's spouse and the respondent during which the latter flung a file of papers at the former. The file struck the appellant, causing a cut on the elbow. The court ruled that the offence was minor, and thus the defendants are not liable to be punished.

12] Private defence (Sections 96 to 106)

A person may use force against an assailant or aggressor in order to defend oneself or others, his property, or the property of others, with the exception of private defence. It is only possible when a threat is immediate and the application of force is the only way to protect oneself or others. Every person has the right to protect himself or others against any offence that could result in causing death, severe bodily harm, or any other harm, according to Section 96 of the IPC, which outlines private defence.

A person has the right to self-defence against any conduct that is likely to result in death, serious injury, rape, or kidnapping under Section 97 of the IPC. The offender is permitted to use as much force as is required to stop the crime from being committed.

A person has the right to protect himself against theft, vandalism, or criminal trespass, as stated in Section 98 of the IPC. The amount of force, however, must be reasonable and not result in fatalities or serious harm.

Section 99 outlines the restrictions on the use of the right of private defence. The force used must be reasonable and appropriate given the threat. If the threat could be avoided by doing any other harm, the perpetrator cannot be killed. However, the person defending themselves has the right to use any degree of force—including killing—to defend themselves if they are in danger of death. According to Section 100, the right of private defence can be exercised to the extent of causing death only when someone attacks with the aim of killing, causing grave bodily harm, or committing rape or kidnapping.


General Exceptions are certain defences available to those accused that free them of criminal liability. They are established so that one can defend oneself in court. They are not absolute and are subject to constraints and restrictions. According to the circumstances, a person can even cause the death of a person or harm an innocent person.

The general exceptions maintain natural justice principles. When a person is charged with a criminal offence under the IPC, rules of natural justice require that the accused be given a fair hearing and an opportunity to submit their defence. However, the accused must provide evidence to support their claim that their actions fall within the general exception, and the court must evaluate this evidence in accordance with natural justice principles.



[1] M.H George v. State of Maharashtra, AIR 1965 SC 722

[2] Jageshwar v. Emperor, AIR 1924 Oudh 228

[3] R v. Dudley and Stephens, L.R 14 QBD 273

[4] R v. Daniel Mc Naughten, (1843) 10 Clark and Finnelly 200-214-(H.L)

[5] Queen v. Poonai Fattemah, 1869 12 W.R (Cr) 7

[6] Veeda Menezes v. Yusuf Khan, 1966 AIR (SC) 1773

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Glito Davis
Glito Davis
15 Mei 2023

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