Negligence means breaching the duty of care by omitting to do something. Under criminal law, the degree of negligence determines the liability of the person who commits negligence. In Jacob Mathew v. State of Punjab[i], the Supreme Court held that the essential ingredient of mens rea should be considered when the charge in a criminal court consists of criminal negligence. Therefore, breach of duty of care becomes criminal in nature when there exists sufficient mens rea in committing an act of negligence.
The culpability involved in committing an offence by negligence was discussed in R. v. Caldwell[ii], where the Court observed that the criminal liability in case of negligence is not located in a desire to cause harm. It resides in the proximity of the reckless state of mind to the which is present when there is an intention to cause the harm. Therefore, the culpability arises when the accused is in reckless state of mind where he has the knowledge that his acts do have the consequence of causing injury to others.
Negligence of higher degree is criminal negligence-
Negligence may be a tort or a crime. As described in the previous paragraphs, to establish the culpability of negligent act the existence of mental element is very essential. Further, the Supreme Court in the case of Syed Akbar v. State of Karnataka[iii], has pointed out differences between negligence as a crime and a tort. The Apex Court has observed that, in criminal proceedings related to negligence, the persuasion of guilt must amount to such a moral certainty as convinces the mind of the Court beyond all reasonable doubt while considering the Court as a reasonable man. Further, where negligence is an essential ingredient of an offence, it is the duty of the prosecution to establish the culpability of negligence by proving it to be gross in nature.
Criminal Negligence under Indian Penal Code-
The Indian Penal Code covers culpability of negligence under various provisions. Though causing death by negligence is covered under section 304A, there are many other acts committed with negligence which are considered as offences under the Code. The following are the provisions which considers criminal negligence-
- Section 129-This provision is under Chapter VI which deals with the offences against the State. The provision covers the negligent act of the public servant in causing the escape of a prisoner. The prisoner under this provision shall be a State prisoner or prisoner of war. The public servant who commits such negligent act shall be punished under this provision with simple imprisonment for a term which may extend to 3 years and shall also be liable to fine. Therefore, the public servant is criminally liable for his negligent act.
- Section 223- This provision is covered under Chapter XI which deals with the offences of false evidence and offences against public justice. The provision imposes criminal liability on the public servant who is negligent in conducting his duty specified in the provision. Under this provision, the public servant who was legally bound to keep in confinement any person charged or convicted must have caused the escape of such person negligently. This provision covers all prisoners except those specific prisoners who are covered under Section 129 of IPC.
- Section 225A- This provision criminalises the omission of legally bound duty by the public servant who omits such duty to apprehend or causes sufferance of escape. The provision considers both the intentional omission and omission caused by negligence. Therefore, the public servant is liable even if the omission of duty under this provision has occurred by negligence.
- Chapter XVI of IPC- The Chapter XVI of the Code which deals with the offences affecting public health, safety, convenience, decency and morals. This chapter covers many forms of criminal negligence.
- Section 269 punishes a person whose acts are negligent and are likely to spread infection of disease dangerous to life. Therefore, this provision considers that negligence of any person in affecting the public health is culpable.
- Sections 282 criminalises the negligent act of a person in conveying another by water for hire where the person conveying has the knowledge that the vessel is unsafe or is overloaded.
- Section 284 punishes negligent conduct of a person with respect to poisonous substance and such negligent conduct is endangering human life or is likely to cause injury to any person. The negligent conduct under this provision includes both action and omission in handling the poisonous substance.
- Section 285 provides for criminal liability in case of negligent conduct by any person with respect to fire or combustible matter and such negligence causes danger to human life or is likely to cause injury to another person.
- Section 286 holds a person criminally liable in cases where the person owing to his negligent conduct has caused danger to the human life and is likely to injure another person. The negligent conduct under this provision should be for explosive substance. This provision covers both action and omission in conducting negligently.
- Section 287 covers the negligent conduct concerning machinery by a person who is in possession of such machinery or the machinery is under his care sufficient to guard the same. The negligent conduct of the person should cause danger to human life or should be likely to cause hurt or injury to another person, then the criminal liability under this provision arises.
- Section 288 punishes any person who negligently conducts in pulling down or repairing buildings and such conduct is probably causing danger to human life from the fall of such building completely or any part of the building.
- Section 289 considers negligent conduct to animal which has a consequence of probably endangering human life or causing grievous hurt from such animal to another person as criminal negligence.
- Sections 336, 337 and 338- These provisions consider three consequences of negligence as offences-
- Endangering the life or personal safety of others (Section 336)
- Causing hurt (Section 337)
- Causing grievous hurt (Section 338)
- Section 304A-This provision considers causing death by negligence as an offence and is punished. The provision was inserted by the Indian Penal Code (Amendment) Act, 1870.
Keeping in view all the above-mentioned provisions under the Indian Penal Code, it can be concluded that negligence of higher degree as observed by the Courts is considered as criminal negligence and any negligent act which is accompanied with the knowledge of causing such injury gives rise to criminal liability.
“The views of the authors are personal“
Frequently Asked Questions-
What is the punishment prescribed under the IPC for various negligent conducts covered under Chapter XVI?
The offence under Section 269 is punished with imprisonment of a term which may extend to 6 months or fine or both.
The offences under sections 282, 284 to 289 shall be punished with imprisonment for a term which may extend to six months or fine which may extend to one thousand rupees or with both.
[i] AIR 2005 SC 3180
[ii] 1981 (1) All E.R. 961 (HL)
[iii] (1980) 1 SCC 30.