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The right to self-defence cannot be used to escape aggressive offences punishable under law, and the person invoking the right has to demonstrate that there was fear of suffering grievous injury or death, the Supreme Court has ruled.

“Right of private defence cannot be used to do away with a wrongdoer unless the person concerned has a reasonable cause to fear that otherwise death or grievous hurt might ensue…” an Supreme Court bench of justices K.S. Radhakrishnan and Dipak Misra said in their May 3 judgment.

While holding that an accused need not prove the existence of right to self-defence beyond a reasonable doubt, the court said the same could not be exercised to do away wrong act.

Justice Radhakrishnan said: “Law clearly spells out that the right of private defence is available only when there is a reasonable apprehension of receiving injury” and that the “injury which is inflicted by a person exercising the right (to self defence) should commensurate with the injury with which he is threatened”.

It is for the accused claiming the right of private defence to place necessary material on record either by himself adducing positive evidence or by eliciting necessary facts from the witnesses examined for the prosecution, if a plea of private defence is raised, the court said.

“A plea of right of private defence cannot be based on surmises and speculation. While considering whether the right of private defence is available to an accused, it is not relevant whether he may have a chance to inflict severe and mortal injury on the aggressor,” it said.

It further said that in order to find whether the right of private defence is available to an accused, the “entire incident must be examined with care and viewed in its proper setting”.

The Supreme Court gave its ruling while rejecting the plea of private defence by one Arjun who was convicted by a trial court for murdering Jagannath Rambhau Shirasath and causing grievous injury to his wife Muktabai. The conviction and sentence of life imprisonment was upheld by the Aurangabad bench of the Bombay High Court.

However, noting that murder was committed in a heat of passion and was not premeditated and that there was a fight between the parties, the court modified the provisions under which cognizance was taken and reduced the sentence to 10 years. Arjun has been in jail since July 30, 2003.

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