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Indian Case Summary

James Martin vs State Of Kerala on 16 December, 2003 – Case Summary

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In the case of James Martin vs State of Kerala on 16 December 2003, the Supreme Court of India was confronted with a complex situation involving the right of private defence, as provided under Section 96 of the Indian Penal Code, 1860 (IPC). The case was presided over by a bench consisting of Doraiswamy Raju and Arijit Pasayat.

Facts of the Case

The appellant, James Martin, along with his father Xavier, faced trial for alleged offences under various sections of the IPC and the Arms Act, 1959. The charges stemmed from an incident that occurred during a nationwide strike (Bharat Bandh) on March 15, 1988. The prosecution’s version of events was that a group of five men, including two deceased individuals named Mohan and Basheer, entered the flour mill owned by James and Xavier. An altercation ensued, leading to James and Xavier locking the compound gate and retreating to their house. James then allegedly fired at the group from a window, resulting in the deaths of Mohan and Basheer and injuries to others.

The defence argued that the group had unlawfully entered their premises and assaulted their employee, leading to the firing in self-defence. The trial court found James guilty of offences under Section 304 Part I, 326, and 324 IPC, while Xavier was found guilty of offences under Section 304 Part I read with Section 34, 302 read with Sections 24, 324 IPC. Both were sentenced to imprisonment and fined.

Issues and Court’s Observations

The primary issue before the Supreme Court was whether the appellant had exceeded his right of private defence under Section 96 of the IPC. The court noted that the right of private defence is a recognized right in criminal law, but its exercise is subject to certain limits as defined under Section 99 IPC.

The court observed that the right of private defence is not an offence and can be exercised when there is a reasonable apprehension of danger. However, the burden of proof lies on the accused to show that he had a right of private defence and that the harm caused was necessary for warding off the attack or for forestalling further reasonable apprehension.

In this case, the court noted that the group of men had unlawfully entered the premises of the accused and had assaulted their employee. The court also observed that the group was in an aggressive mood and were armed with sharp-edged weapons. However, the court concluded that the right of private defence was exceeded in its exercise.


The Supreme Court upheld the trial court’s decision, finding that while the appellant had a right to private defence, he had exceeded this right. The court emphasized that the right of private defence is a defensive right and should not be used as a pretext for aggressive or retributive purposes. The court also noted that the right of private defence commences as soon as a reasonable apprehension of danger arises and lasts as long as the reasonable apprehension of danger to the body continues.