Right of Private Defence: How to Get Away With Murder
Whenever we encounter the news of tragic and heinous crimes, we are forced to think how different we could have reacted to change the outcome of the dangerous situation that the victim must have faced. And because unlike the movies we love to watch, in real life, we have to face the consequences of our action. So it is natural to have questions like — Is it legal to kill a person trying to harm us? Or at least hurt them? When can we hurt them and how much force are we allowed to use?
For all the troubled souls out there, if you are reading this post thinking that the information will come in handy if you feel the need to kill someone, then STOP right now and get some therapy. It is not healthy to think about killing someone.
On the other hand, if you are reading this article to learn about your rights in case you face a critical situation of such nature or to just kill boredom, then go right ahead. Remember, Right to Private Defence is an exception to rules of criminal liability and hence it depends on the situation and circumstances which will determine the fate of a case. There is no ‘by the book’ approach to this, and it will depend on a case to case basis whether the use of Right of Private Defence was right.
Right of Private Defence: What Does It Mean Legally?
Before we learn about our rights, let us first understand and learn a few words that are critical to understanding our rights and situation that we may be faced with.
Reasonable Apprehension and Proportionate Force
Reasonable apprehension means that the situation in which you find yourself should be perceived by most people as threatening to your body and property — that attacker was about to cause you harm. Here harm can mean to be anything from assault to murder or even loss of property
Proportionate force means that the harm you are about to cause to the attacker in order to defend yourself must be only enough to stop such reasonable apprehension. To put this into an example: Suppose a person ‘A’ reasonably apprehends that he might be slapped by ‘B’. So in order to escape the slap ‘A’ cannot use a gun to shoot B or hit his head with a bat. Because shooting someone is not proportionate being slapped. However, say if ‘B’ was about to kill ‘A’ with an axe then it is reasonable and proportionate for ‘A’ to shoot ‘B’.
Most importantly a person is allowed to use such proportionate force during the existence of threat and apprehension of an assault to body or property. This is important because you are not allowed to shoot a person out of revenge just because he kept you at gunpoint at some previous point in time. For example: If A puts B under reasonable apprehension of harm by pointing a gun at ‘B’ but ‘A’ after realizing the arrival of the cops tries to escape, then B is not allowed to shoot A while running away and claim Private Defence. That would most likely qualify as murder.
Situations that Permit Killing Someone as Private Defence
However, it is not possible to calculate the exact force in all situations. For some situations, there is no reasonable way to know the “proportionate force”. There is no proportionate harm you can cause if the attacker is trying to abduct or rape any person. In such situations, the law permits proportionate can extend to cause even death. Let’s look at situations where a person can kill someone to protect himself and claim Right of Private Defence:
- One should have been assaulted such that it may reasonably cause apprehension of death. Here the harm of causing death is proportionate, but it must be coupled with assault.
- One should have been assaulted such that it may cause reasonable apprehension of grievous hurt. Here the use of deadly force is not proportionate but is allowed because a victim cannot be sure if the apprehension is of death or grievous hurt and is thus given the benefit of the doubt. When the attacker wants to cause grievous hurt by throwing or administering acid, then it is not necessary that it should be coupled with assault.
- One should have been assaulted, and then circumstances of being raped exist. Here deadly force would be allowed. But remember that, according to Indian law only women can be raped by men. So if a man is being raped, then the Right to Private Defence will not be available if you kill them.
- One should have been assaulted with an intention of gratifying unnatural lust. Now, what constitutes unnatural lust would vary from a case to case basis, but cases of child sex abuse, etc. would fall under this category. In these situations, Right to Private Defence can be available if you kill them.
- One should have been assaulted and either being kidnapped or abducted. If you or any person are being kidnapped (only applicable to minors) or abducted coupled with assault, then you can cause the death of such person.
- One should have been assaulted first and then be falsely imprisoned without being able to reach public authorities for help. Then deadly force would be allowed. However, this is not applicable in case imprisonment is done by police.
- When there is a robbery (has to be armed or will be theft) at your home or any other persons’ home, then you can use deadly force in order to avert such robbery. Such force should only be applied as long as the threat remains and not after that. Say for example if there are five people robbing you, and in Private defence, you kill one of them causing others to run then you cannot kill any other of the four left if they withdraw. If you do the right of Private defence will not be available to you.
- If there is housebreaking or any mischief such as lighting the house on fire by the attacker, then a person is allowed to cause death and claim right to Private Defence.
For all attacks on property, the acts need not be coupled with assault rather simple; reasonable apprehension is sufficient.
Since protecting yourself or any other person is a natural instinct, the important part of this law of Private defence is that it can be used not only to protect ourselves or our property but also to protect any other person or their property. Hence, it is called the Right to Private Defence and not “Self-Defence”. There is absolutely no need for you to have any kind of relationship with victims you are trying to protect. Therefore, now you can safeguard yourself and any person in need of help without the fear of being imprisoned as a criminal.