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Nanavati's Reasonable Man's Test

K. M. Nanavati v. State of Maharashtra

AIR 1962 SC 605
It Is known as the Last Jury trial case in India which means after this, the Government had abolished the jury system In India. There were a lot of drawbacks in the jury system and Nanavati case was one of them which led to the abolition of jury system in India. Nanavati was declared not guilty of murder by the jury first and later The Bombay High court had dismissed the verdict given by the jury.

Facts of the case:
The case goes back to 1956, the accused K.M. Nanavati was a navy officer who was married to his wife named Sylvia and had three children and they were introduced to Prem Ahuja (the deceased) who had the business of automobiles. K.M. because of his service in the navy had to travel and so he and his wife used to live at different places far away from each other. Gradually friendship grew between the Nanavatis and Ahuja and criminal intimacy grew between Ahuja and sylvia behind K.M's back.

Sylvia confessed about her illicit affair with Prem Ahuja and due to which K.M. got obviously infuriated and wanted to settle scores with Prem.K.M. drove his wife and his three children to a cinema and then he went to his ship and took his semi-automatic revolver and six cartridges with an ostensible reason. K.M. after that left the ship and went to Ahuja's flat and entered his dormitory with the revolver of course.

They had a verbal fight where K.M. asked Prem if he would marry his wife and take care of his children. Prem, the deceased said that Am I to marry every woman I sleep with? After which K.M. shot Prem dead. After which K.M. surrendered himself to the police and he faced a charge under section 302 of the Indian penal code.

What did court hold?
The conviction of the accused (K.M.) under Section 302 of the Indian penal code (Punishment for murder) was upheld)
In the famous case[1] the Supreme Court discussed the law relating to provocation. It observed that test is such that whether a reasonable man belonging to the same class as that of the accused would have caused the death when placed in such a situation similar to that of accused and would that reasonable man would have lost his self-control as the accused due to the provocation in the given facts and circumstances of the case.

It was clearly laid down in this case that in India even the words/gestures unaccompanied by an act can cause grave and sudden provocation to the accused. It further held that the mental background created by the prior act of the deceased may be taken into consideration for ascertaining that whether the subsequent act caused the grave and sudden provocation which prompted the accused to commit the offense.

Another observation made by the court was that the fatal blow must be clearly traced to the influence of passion arising from that provocation and not after the passion has cooled by lapse of time. This would otherwise amount to give the accused room for premeditation and calculation.

The SC rejected the plea of grave and sudden provocation on seeing the facts of the case. It held that no doubt the accused for the moment lost self-control when his wife confessed to him about her affair with the deceased but his subsequent act shows something else. It not only indicated that he gained the self-control but also revealed that his mind was capable of planning and scheming of things. The time that lapsed between his leaving the house and the commission of the act was of three hours which is sufficient for a reasonable man to regain his self-control and for the passion to cool down.

Those who believe in the sanctity of life can understand that every life is important. Still the drafters of the Penal Code[2] of our country stated that it will be highly inexpedient and improper to punish the individual for homicide committed by him/her as an intentional one and another out of anger. Professor Maine said that 'unless a man has the capacity to adjust his behavior to the law he ought not to be penalized.'

This is the reasoning the researcher believes the plea of grave and sudden provocation was brought about. The draft[3] states that the accused who committed the homicide of another under grave and sudden provocation must be punished leniently to that of murder. It must be punished in such a manner that there exists a motive for him to accustom himself in order govern his passion. It is like a second opportunity provided to the accused for adjusting his behavior according to the demands of the law.
The problem of adhering to cumulative provocation is the delimitation of it.

The extent is not demarcated and thus where to draw the line becomes a great issue. If this would be allowed then the accused in every case would plead for it and would try to justify that no matter the time-gap was more between the provocation and the killing, it was still done out of anger or that the accused was suffering from the loss of self-control. This would result in uncertain result.

The basic premise on which the Rule of Law is based is the certainty of the law. If we go by the above logic then it will lose certainty and would make it really difficult for the courts to determine the criminal responsibility of the accused. This was the sole reason in the famous and landmark case of Nanavati[4] it was clearly stated that once it is established that the provoked anger is reduced with the passing of time that is the cooling down of the anger is done then the accused would not be given the defense of provocation and would be liable for the offense.

  1. K.M. Nanavati v. State of Maharashtra, AIR 1962, SC 605.
  2. The Indian Penal Code, 1860 (Act 45 of 1860).
  3. Draft Penal Code Note M, p.144.
  4. K.M. Nanavati v. State of Maharashtra, AIR 1962, SC 605.

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