A three-Judge Bench of the Apex Court on September 16, 2020, made absolutely clear the fact that a lathi is also capable of being used as a weapon of assault, does not make it a weapon of assault simpliciter.
The bench comprising of Justice RF Nariman, Justice Indira Banerjee, and Justice Navin Sinha was hearing an appeal filed by the accused who was earlier convicted by the Trial Court under Section 302 of the Indian Penal Code after the accused murdered a person (now deceased) with a lathi on the head. Though the High Court had opined that the assault was not premeditated but had taken place in a heat of passion due to a land dispute, it sustained a conviction under Section 302 IPC.
The Supreme Court dealing with the appeal also came across a significant question that is likely to occur is that, whether there was an intention to cause death or only knowledge that death in a case of an assault on the head with a lathi. The Court observed that “A lathi is a common item carried by a villager in this country, linked to his identity. The fact that it is also capable of being used as a weapon of assault, does not make it a weapon of assault simpliciter. In a case like the present, of an assault on the head with a lathi, it is always a question fact in each case whether there was an intention to cause death or only knowledge that death was likely to occur. The circumstances, manner of assault, nature, and number of injuries will all have to be considered cumulatively to decipher the intention or knowledge as the case may be."
The bench also referred to the observations made in earlier judgments involving similar circumstances such as Virsa Singh vs. The State of Punjab, 1958 SCR 1495 Joseph vs. the State of Kerala, (1995) SCC (Crl.) 165, Chamru Budhwa vs. State of Madhya Pradesh, AIR 1954 SC 652, Mohd. Shakeel vs. the State of A.P., (2007) 3 SCC 119, Gurmukh Singh vs. the State of Haryana, (2009) 15 SCC 635.
The Hon’ble Apex Court allowed the appeal and observed that any act done without any intention to cause death or to cause such bodily injury as is likely to cause death within the meaning of Part II of Section 304 of the Indian Penal Code. Therefore, the Court while altering the orders of life imprisonment under Section 302 held the accused guilty under Section 304 Part II of IPC.
The order stated seven years of rigorous imprisonment, however, since the accused had already undergone the maximum period of the sentence prescribed, the bench directed his release.