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  • Avni Jain

Challenging the Gavel: Analyzing the Nuances and Imperfections in Supreme Court Verdicts – A Case Study of Gudar Dusadh vs. State of Bihar

Avni Jain,

O. P. Jindal Global University

Often deemed the ultimate arbiter of justice, the Supreme Court holds a revered status as the highest judicial authority, with its verdicts shaping the legal terrain of the nation. However, we must question the assumption that all Supreme Court judgments are flawless and sacrosanct. In this piece, we will scrutinize this idea and utilize the Gudar Dusadh vs. State of Bihar case as an exemplar of this concept.

In the instant case the victim, Ramlal, and his son Ramashish Prasad were coming back from their paddy field on the morning of 14th Aug 1965 when they were both assaulted by six men hiding in the bushes as a result of which Ramlal died and his son suffered injuries. A day before the occurrence, two men- Prasadi Dusadh and Ganesh Dusadh killed a goat belonging to one Baharan Bhagat. On the advice of Ramlal, he filed a police report against them. The appellant gave a lathi blow on the head of Ramlal as a result of which he fell and died on the spot. One of the gang members of the accused also shouted that the lathi blow was the consequence of Ramlal being responsible for the commencement of criminal proceedings by Baharan. Further, the accused also set fire to one of their huts and fled away. He was convicted under Section 302 and Section 147 of the IPC and was sentenced to imprisonment for life on the former charge by the Additional Sessions Judge. The appeal was thus made to the Patna High Court against the sentence and the conviction. The court referred to Clause 3 of Section 300 which consists of two parts;

  1. Intention to cause bodily injury to any person

  2. The bodily injury intended to be inflicted is sufficient to cause death in the ordinary course of nature.[i]

As regards the first part, on the facts of the case, it was established that the attack was pre-mediated since there firstly there was no quarrel or exchange of abuses between the accused and the victim, and secondly, the blow was not accidental or intended on some other part of the body since the accused was waiting to attack him and aimed for a blow on the head itself which shows the intention to cause the precise injury which was found. Since the blow was given with such force that it resulted in instantaneous death, there arose no need for a second blow thus, the fact that a single blow was given could not reduce the culpability of the accused.

Secondly, in light of the medical evidence, it was proved that the blow on the head was given with such force that it resulted in a 3’’ long fracture on the left parietal bone of the deceased as a result of which he died on the spot. According to the doctor, death was caused by a compression on the left side of the brain, and the injury so inflicted was sufficient to cause death in the ordinary course of nature thus he was held liable under both clauses of Section 300 3rdly for murder.

It is evident that the homicide scenario in this instance had a strong overtone of these considerations, which appeared to have weighed strongly on the court's judgment. However, certain other factors, such as the lack of any prior plan to cause a fatal or serious injury, the injury being caused by a simple non-iron-shod lathi, and the infliction of only one lathi blow, merited further investigation in the interest of proper appreciation of the homicide story. Remarkably, the Supreme Court did not deem it desirable to pay any regard to these variables, which may have had a significant impact on the question of culpability, as well as attracting any substantial investigation into key core issues pertaining to the goal.[ii]

With the context established, digging into the study of the third clause of Section 300 of the IPC becomes not only beneficial but also necessary in unraveling the complexities of the current case. According to the provision, culpable homicide is murder if the act that causes death is done with the intention of causing injury to any person and the bodily injury intended to be inflicted is sufficient in the ordinary course of nature to cause death. It is not essential for the offender to intend to cause death for instances to fall under Clause (3), as long as the death results from intentional bodily injury or injuries sufficient to result in death in the normal course of nature. If we look at the landmark Virsa Singh case, the expressions 'intention,'' sufficient,' and 'ordinary course of nature' are crucial. The judges ruled in favor of the prosecution after they were able to persuade the bench that the culprit was aware that a blow may, in the ordinary course of nature, result in death. Despite the defense's argument that Section 300 should be interpreted as a whole and that the perpetrator's goal was to cause injury rather than death, the judges believed the prosecution and condemned Virsa Singh under Section 302. In a nutshell, the third clause's investigation consists of two major components. The first section focuses on the accused's intention to inflict bodily harm, which necessitates a clear link between the accused's mental state and the intended injury. The second element evaluates the nature of the injury's sufficiency to cause death, based on a reasonable foreseeability by a person in the accused's position. If the intended injury is of a sort that a reasonable person would deem adequate to cause death, the accused is held to have foreseen such consequences.  

In the case at hand, the accused is characterized by strategically waiting for the victims and deliberately causing harm in daylight, which makes it clear that there is no contestation against the applicability of the initial segment of the third clause. The head injury caused does not indicate in any way or imply a possibility of being accidental and thus the act has been done intentionally. However, the fulfillment of the primary facet of inquiry just marks a beginning requirement that shifts focus to a more central investigation of the nature of the injury. The question of liability becomes intricately entwined with the task of evaluating the injury's characteristics, necessitating an exploration of the factual dimensions underlying such assessments. Figuring out how severe the injuries are relies on what a reasonable person would think. This decision, however, is largely up to the judge's discretion. For determining the assessment problem, the court appears to have relied mainly on the post-mortem report and medical opinion in the given case. The criticism leveled against the court's overreliance on medical evidence stems from its inability to conform to the objective liability criteria outlined in the relevant sections. The problem is the sole evaluation of the injury based on an expert opinion, which is difficult to defend in the context of the third clause of this section. This clause emphasizes the significance of judging injuries purely through the lens of the commonly accepted objective criterion. 

I embrace the approach of evaluating the totality of circumstances in analyzing the nature of injury in the current case, as some courts have done. This entails a thorough investigation that goes beyond depending just on medical opinions. These courts take into account elements including the type of weapon used, the location of the harm, and the inherent characteristics of the injury itself. A holistic approach such as this enriches the analysis beyond simply relying on the medical evidence. In this case, a non-iron-shod lathi of conventional size, a weapon judged not particularly hazardous, caused a single head injury. Even though the harm targeted a crucial location such as the head, it does not automatically qualify under the third clause. The court, dismissing the significance of a single lathi blow, argued that a fatal outcome negates the need for additional blows. The court argued that a deadly consequence precludes the necessity for more hits, rejecting the relevance of a single lathi stroke. This discovery raises concerns, especially considering the possibility of using excessive force in an adverse situation. Because the victims were confronted with an agitated accused, the use of excessive force seemed more reasonable. The court's decision concerning the nature of the harm does not easily fit with the context, because the form of infliction does not appear to be very dangerous or mischievous.

Taking such an approach by the Supreme Court can have numerous implications for the criminal law of murder, as well as for broader criminal policy related to personal liberty and human dignity.  Notable implications include the possible erasure of boundaries between murder and other forms of killings, as well as the broadening of the scope of murder accusations for intentionally inflicting death. The court's disdain for the weapon's nature contradicts the previously prominent 'dangerous weapon theory,' which played an important role in defining murder, particularly in borderline situations. A more specific hypothesis based on the nature of the weapon might better address society's increasing usage of deadly weapons. 

In conclusion, the Gudar Dusadh case provides a critical lens through which we might uncover flaws in Supreme Court decisions, notably on the interpretation of Section 300 of the IPC. While the lawsuit aims to address an increasing tide of violent crimes, it also reveals possible problems in the legal system. The Supreme Court's failure to consider critical factors such as the lack of a prior plan to cause substantial harm, the use of a non-iron-shod lathi, and the application of a single blow calls into doubt the judgment's thoroughness. The court's reliance on a medical opinion-centric approach, which has been criticized for failing to accord with objective liability standards, highlights the need for a more thorough review. The case underscores the careful balance that must be struck between addressing growing violence and preserving legal certainty, encouraging the highest judicial authority to take a balanced and careful approach to criminal law and its interpretations.

References

[i] Latest Laws In India: Legal News In India, Law Firms News & Updates India, latestlaws.com (Accessed: 10 December 2023).

[ii] Pande, Bhuvaneshwar B. “LIMITS ON OBJECTIVE LIABILITY FOR MURDER.” Journal of the Indian Law Institute, vol. 16, no. 3, 1974, pp. 469–82. JSTOR, http://www.jstor.org/stable/43950383. Accessed 10 Dec. 2023.

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