The article is written by Srushti Khule, a student of NALSAR, University of Law, Hyderabad. In this article, the author has extensively discussed the difference between homicide and manslaughter. The various case laws explaining the further heads are discussed in the article.
It has been published by Rachit Garg.
Table of Contents
Every time we hear the word ‘crime’ it shocks our conscience, and we come to know how brutal humans are becoming day by day. A single criminal act affects not only the victim but also the entire society. One such gruesome crime is an offence against the human body. Rape, kidnapping, abduction, dowry deaths, and homicides are some of them.
This article will look extensively at the offence of homicide. It will differentiate homicide from manslaughter, which is the term used in common law jurisdictions. Homicide and manslaughter are two distinct legal concepts that revolve around the unlawful killing of another person. In layman’s terms, both terms are often regarded as synonyms and used interchangeably. But, under the realm of criminal law, they carry different implications and consequences. Understanding the nuances between homicide and manslaughter is essential for legal professionals as well as individuals seeking to comprehend the intricacies of these offences.
Definition of crime
A crime is defined as any unlawful act committed that is forbidden by the law and injurious or harmful to the public at large, which makes the offender guilty and liable for the legal punishment. Our Indian law does not define crime in definite terms, instead, the word “offence” is used under Section 3 of the General Clauses Act 1897, which defines offence as an act committed or omitted punishable by the law for the time being. There are various forms of offences defined under the Indian Penal Code of 1860, and one of them includes offences against the human body. A homicide, which is the killing of a person by another person, is one of the gravest forms of offence against the human body.
What is homicide
Homo means “man” and cide means “killing,” which gives us the term homicide which means killing a man.
What is manslaughter
The term ‘manslaughter’ is not defined under the Indian Penal Code, but it is a term used in common law jurisdiction. It is one of the types of homicide where a person unlawfully kills another person, but his liability is not extended as for murder due to the presence of partial defences.
Nature of crime
The nature of crime is difficult to define because what was categorised as a crime yesterday may not be a crime tomorrow. It changes from place to place and from time to time. For example, Sati was a ritualistic Hindu practice, but now it is a crime. Adultery was a crime until 2018, but now it only remains as the ground for divorce.
A homicide may be intentional or unintentional, which includes recklessness, negligence, or accident. There are two kinds of homicide-
- Unlawful homicide; and
- Lawful homicide;
Lawful homicide means a death is caused by the person but is justified or excused by the law due to a lack of intention on the part of the accused. This homicide is not punishable by the law. General exceptions given under Chapter 4 of the Indian Penal Code 1860, which includes mistake of fact, and the right to private defence, etc.
Unlawful homicide also known as culpable (blameworthy) homicide, as defined under Section 299 of the Indian Penal Code 1860 occurs when death is caused by a person with the intention or knowledge of the occurrence of that death. It can be divided into 2 categories namely-
- Culpable homicide not amounting to Murder (Five exceptions under Section 300 of IPC, 1860); and
- Culpable homicide amounting to Murder (Section 300 of IPC, 1860);
Manslaughter is one of the four categories of homicide in English law, the other three being murder, infanticide, and death caused while driving. Manslaughter is a less serious form of homicide than murder. It can be divided into four categories-
- Voluntary manslaughter; and
- Involuntary manslaughter;
The definitions do not depend on what the name suggests. Voluntary manslaughter means killing a person with criminal intent. This is different from murder because here the defences of loss of control, diminished responsibility, or killing under a suicide pact apply, and thus offence is considered less grave and categorized as manslaughter. Involuntary manslaughter, on the other hand, means the accused causes death without criminal intent but due to reasons such as recklessness or criminal negligence.
Essentials of crime
There are four essential elements of crime.
- Human being– The crime should be committed by the human only. Earlier there was the concept of “Deodand” in which inanimate objects, animals, or dead men were prosecuted and punished. No one could escape from liability but now there is a shift from crime to criminal, therefore only unlawful acts committed by the human being are considered.
- Mens rea- The presence of a guilty mind is required to constitute a crime. There are some offences such as strict liability which do not require mens rea.
- Actus reus- It means the actual commission of a crime. An act committed or omitted should be such which is forbidden or prescribed by the law respectively. There is some human conduct that the law seeks to prevent because they result in injury to the other person. Mere thinking of committing a crime is not a punishable offence.
- Injury- Injury must be caused to another person or society at large. Section 44 of the IPC defines “injury” as harm caused to a person in mind, body, reputation, or property.
Manslaughter occurs when a death is caused without the presence of the necessary intent to cause it. The death caused here is not the intended outcome.
In voluntary manslaughter, though the intent is present, it is perceived to be defective because the act is done under loss of control, diminished responsibility, or killing pursuant to a suicide pact. It should be noted that these three are defences only for the murder, and if successful, then liability can be reduced to manslaughter.
- Loss of control in English law is on similar lines to the one given in exception 1 of Section 300 of IPC which means that the act was done in sudden and grave provocation. Here the person may take this defence when self-control is lost due to a “qualifying trigger”.
- Diminished responsibility defined under Section 2(1) of the Homicide Act of 1957 means the accused must show that he or she suffered from such mental impairment in which there was a total loss of ability to understand the nature of the conduct.
- A suicide pact is defined under Section 4 of the Homicide Act 1957 which makes a common agreement between two or more persons with the objective of death of all of them as manslaughter and not murder. This can be compared with exception 5 of Section 300 IPC which talks about death by consent where this defence is taken under culpable homicide not amounting to murder.
In involuntary manslaughter, there is no intent to cause death, but the death is caused due to other reasons such as gross negligence or recklessness. It consists of the following forms-
- Constructive manslaughter- This is also known as unlawful act manslaughter, in which a person is punished for the offence of manslaughter if he causes death while committing the crime. In DPP vs. Newbury (1977), it was stated that the act must be unlawful and so dangerous that it is likely to cause physical injury to another person.
- Gross negligence manslaughter- In R vs. Adomako (1995) this was extensively discussed and it was established that there must be the presence of duty, breach of that duty causation and injury must be so gross as to constitute criminal liability.
- Subjective reckless manslaughter- The death is caused by the defendant foreseeing the risk of serious injury or death. Though it is a form of manslaughter, these situations are generally considered under constructive or gross negligence manslaughter thus no cases under the exact definition.
In Indian law, the essential elements of homicide are the presence of mens rea, actus reus, causation, and the result of death. Two kinds of guilty minds are considered when applying Section 299 and Section 300 of the IPC. One is the intention which can be derived from the weapon use, place of injuries, manner of commission of the act, etc. Another is knowledge, which is based on objective and reasoned inference. Causation here means the link between an act and death. It is necessary to prove that the act of the accused was the operative cause of the death. Earlier, the principle of ‘corpus delicti’ that is, the body has to be present to prove death, was strictly followed, but this is no longer followed, as observed by the Supreme Court in Ram Gulam Chaudhury vs. State of Bihar (2001).
Punishment for crime
As we have discussed earlier, every crime is different in the manner in which it is committed, the motive behind it, and the extent and severity of the injury, and thus there are different punishments for each one of them.
Manslaughter (English law)
The maximum sentence is imprisonment for life. The judge may also give other sentences, such as to serve the sentence immediately, suspended imprisonment, or community service. The judge, taking into account the interests of the public, may pass either a life sentence or an extended sentence of imprisonment. The sentence is given by taking into account the seriousness of the harm, the history or previous character of the accused, sentencing guidelines, etc., among others.
In Indian law jurisdictions, lawful homicide is not punishable. Punishment for culpable homicide amounting to murder is given under Section 302 of the IPC as death or life imprisonment and a fine. Culpable homicide not amounting to murder is punished under Section 304 of the IPC as imprisonment, which may extend to two years, a fine, or both.
There are various case laws that further explain the heads under manslaughter. In R vs. Acott (1997), the defence of provocation was not provided, and the defendant was held liable for murder. In this case, the defendant killed his mother in a frenzied attack. Though there was evidence that he had lost his self-control, that was not sufficient, as there was no evidence of him provoking the incident.
The defence of mental impairment can only be taken now if the defendant has a recognised medical condition. This is unlike old law, such as in the case of R v. Vinagre (1979), where the defendant got the defence when he killed his wife while suffering from “Othello syndrome”, but not under the new law.
In DPP vs. Newbury (1977), two teenage boys threw stones from a railway bridge toward the moving train travelling beneath them. It hit the guard and caused his death. Lord Salmon held that it is sufficient to prove the act of manslaughter if the defendant has the intention to cause an unlawful and dangerous act, and it is not necessary that the defendant at the time of the commission of offence knew the act was unlawful or dangerous.
KM Nanavati vs. State of Maharashtra (1960) is one of the landmark cases in Indian history. In this case, KM Nanvati was a naval officer who came to know about the affair of his wife and, as a result of it, killed him in his bathroom with three continuous bullet shots. He later told this to the police himself and surrendered. He pleaded the defence of sudden and grave provocation, but the Bombay High Court and the Supreme Court declined it and convicted him of the murder.
State vs. Jasbir Singh and Kuljeet (1978), also known as the “Ranga Billa case,” in which children were kidnapped for ransom but later murdered by the two accused because they believed that the father of the children was not wealthy, being a naval officer. Both of them were convicted under Sections 302 read with Section 34 of the Indian Penal Code and sentenced to death.
Summary of differences
Homicide is a genus, and manslaughter is a species. Manslaughter is one of the categories of homicide. The homicide may be culpable, unlawful, or lawful. Manslaughter is a type of unlawful homicide. It is considered less grave when compared with other categories, such as murder. Manslaughter is a term used in common law jurisdictions and is not defined under the Indian Penal Code. In Indian law, culpable homicide not amounting to murder is more or less similar to manslaughter. Homicide, being a broader term, has different punishments depending on the type of homicide, such as death or life imprisonment for murder. On the other hand, manslaughter has been punished under English law, which may extend to life imprisonment. There is no minimum punishment prescribed for it; rather, it depends on the judge’s consideration of the facts and circumstances of the case.
Sometimes it may be confusing to understand terms such as culpable homicide, manslaughter, diminished responsibility, etc., but it becomes easier if we understand different minds. Offences against the human body are one of the serious crimes that are on the rise. Homicide, rape, kidnapping, and abduction are among them. Homicide has a broader spectrum; it encompasses every act of killing, ranging from the most severe crimes like murder to relatively less serious crimes like manslaughter. The key differentiating factor lies in the degree of intent and the presence of mitigating circumstances (for example, exceptions). Manslaughter is considered less serious. It carries less harsh punishment than some other types of homicide. Thus, we can conclude that all manslaughters are homicides, but all homicides are not manslaughter. It is a common law legal term used in countries like the US, the UK, and Australia, to name a few. Its closest Indian alternative can be culpable homicide not amounting to murder as IPC doesn’t use the term manslaughter
Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs)
Where is manslaughter defined under the Indian Penal Code?
This term is not used under Indian law but in common law jurisdictions such as the US, the UK, and Australia, to name a few.
Is manslaughter the same as homicide?
No, manslaughter is not a synonym for homicide. Manslaughter is one of the categories of homicide. The homicide may be culpable/ unlawful, or lawful. Manslaughter is a type of unlawful homicide.
Why is it called manslaughter?
It is made up of two words: man and slaughter. Man- human; slaughter- killing. Thus, it means killing humans.
What are the different types of manslaughter?
Primarily, manslaughter is divided into two categories –
1. Involuntary manslaughter
2. Voluntary manslaughter
What is the difference between manslaughter and murder?
Murder is the intentional killing of another human being, whereas manslaughter is the unlawful but unintentional killing of a human being. Murder is a more grave offence than manslaughter. The punishment for murder is more serious than for manslaughter.
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