When does an act which is an offence cease to be so if done to prevent or avoid other harm to person or property? (Indian Penal Code, 1860)
Act likely to cause harm done without a criminal intent:
Section 81 of the Indian Penal Code lays down 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 to person or property.
Thus, 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. But 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.
Bentham says that an act which would otherwise be a crime may in some cases be excused if the person accused can show that it was done only in order to avoid consequences which could not otherwise be avoided, and which, if they had followed, would have inflicted upon him or upon others irreparable evil, and that the evil inflicted by it was not disproportionate to the evil avoided.
According to him harm can only be justified if it is established (a) that it was inflicted to avert a greater evil; (b) that other means were less effective or more costly; and (c) that the means employed were most efficient.
It is clear from the above that under no circumstances car. a person be justified in intentionally causing harm, but if he causes the harm without any criminal intention he will not be held responsible for the result of his act, provided it be done in good faith to avoid or prevent other harm to person or property.
The provisions of Section 81 are, therefore, applicable only if the following conditions are fulfilled:
(1) That the act was done without criminal intention;
(2) That it is done in good faith; and
(3) That it is done for the purpose of preventing or avoiding other harm to person or property.
(a) The act of A is not a crime for he does B no direct bodily harm, but leaves him to his chance of another plank.
A has not committed any offence because while pushing away B in the sea he had no intention of killing B. What he actually intended, as would appear from the facts of the case, was his own safety.
He pushed B and afforded him an opportunity to catch hold of some other plank. Had he not pushed away B from the plank which a himself was holding both of them would have drowned because that plank was incapable of bearing the burden of two persons.
As such, A thought it proper to push away B so that he might catch hold of some other plank. Since the element of mens rea or bad intention is wanting in this case, A is not guilty of any offence.
(b) It was held in Queen v. Dudley and Stephens (14 Q.B. D. 273 that upon those facts there was no proof of any such necessity as could justify the killing of the boy and they were guilty of murder.