Sections 279, 337, 338, 304-A IPC – Whether High Speed sufficient to...

Sections 279, 337, 338, 304-A IPC – Whether High Speed sufficient to convict

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Question: I am practicing as advocate in Delhi district courts and one of my clients is facing prosecution for offences under Sections 279, 337, 338 and 304-A IPC. The main allegation against him is that he was driving his car at a high speed due to which he caused accident in which one person died and two persons were injured. My question is whether the allegation of high speed driving is sufficient for his conviction for these offences or it is also to be proved that he was driving in rash and negligent manner? Please help with case law.

Answer: Firstly, please note that all these offences, i.e., under Sections 279, 304-A, 337 and 338 of the Indian Penal Code require a rash or negligent act as an ingredient. These sections are reproduced below, and I have highlighted the rash or negligent words (or their cognate words):

279. Rash driving or riding on a public way.—Whoever drives any vehicle, or rides, on any public way in a manner so rash or negligent as to endanger human life, or to be likely to cause hurt or injury to any other person, shall be punished with imprisonment of either description for a term which may extend to six months, or with fine which may extend to one thousand rupees, or with both.”

304-A. Causing death by negligence.—Whoever causes the death of any person by doing any rash or negligent act not amounting to culpable homicide shall be punished with imprisonment of either description for a term which may extend to two years, or with fine, or with both.”

337. Causing hurt by act endangering life or personal safety of others.—Whoever causes hurt to any person by doing any act so rashly or negligently as to endanger human life, or the personal safety of others, shall be punished with imprisonment of either description for a term which may extend to six months, or with fine which may extend to five hundred rupees, or with both.”

338. Causing grievous hurt by act endangering life or personal safety of others.—Whoever causes grievous hurt to any person by doing any act so rashly or negligently as to endanger human life, or the personal safety of others, shall be punished with imprisonment of either description for a term which may extend to two years, or with fine which may extend to one thousand rupees, or with both.”

The Supreme Court judgment in the case of State of Karnataka v. Satish, (1998) 8 SCC 493, may perhaps be applicable to the facts of your case (though I am not aware of full facts of your case), wherein the Supreme Court held as under:

“Merely because the truck was being driven at a “high speed” does not bespeak of either “negligence” or “rashness” by itself. None of the witnesses examined by the prosecution could give any indication, even approximately, as to what they meant by “high speed”. “High speed” is a relative term. It was for the prosecution to bring on record material to establish as to what it meant by “high speed” in the facts and circumstances of the case. In a criminal trial, the burden of providing everything essential to the establishment of the charge against an accused always rests on the prosecution and there is a presumption of innocence in favour of the accused until the contrary is proved. Criminality is not to be presumed, subject of course to some statutory exceptions. There is no such statutory exception pleaded in the present case. In the absence of any material on the record, no presumption of “rashness” or “negligence” could be drawn by invoking the maxim “res ipsa loquitur”. There is evidence to show that immediately before the truck turned turtle, there was a big jerk. It is not explained as to whether the jerk was because of the uneven road or mechanical failure. The Motor Vehicle Inspector who inspected the vehicle had submitted his report. That report is not forthcoming from the record and the Inspector was not examined for reasons best known to the prosecution. This is a serious infirmity and lacuna in the prosecution case.”

“There being no evidence on the record to establish “negligence” or “rashness” in driving the truck on the part of the respondent, it cannot be said that the view taken by the High Court in acquitting the respondent is a perverse view. …”.

In view of the above, mere proof of “high speed” may not be sufficient. To prove the above offence under Sections 279, 337, 338 and 304-A IPC, the prosecution is also required to prove that the car was being driven in a rash or negligent manner.

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