15 years after court martial, AFT upholds life imprisonment awarded to soldier for killing wife

The Armed Forces Tribunal has held that all listed ingredients required for invoking ‘Exception 4 to Section 300 of the Indian Penal Code’ are necessary to avail its benefits by an accused during a trial for murder.

Exception 4 states that culpable homicide is not murder if it is committed without premeditation in a sudden fight in the heat of passion during a sudden quarrel and without the offender having taken undue advantage or acted in a cruel or unusual manner.

Upholding the trial and sentence of life imprisonment and dismissal from service awarded to a soldier by a General Court Martial (GCM) for murdering his wife 15 years after the conviction, the Tribunal said that the existence of only two required ingredients was not sufficient for application of this section.

“The third ingredient that the offender has not taken undue advantage or acted in unusual manner is very important. In this case, it has been proved that the offender poured kerosene on the body of the deceased and set her ablaze. Thus, he has taken undue advantage and acted in an unusual manner in committing the offence,” the Tribunal’s Bench comprising Justice Anil Kumar and Maj Gen Sanjay Singh observed in its order of July 5.

The Bench also referred to an earlier judgement of the Delhi High Court which has held that Exception 4 to Section 300 of the IPC expects the assailant not to act in such disproportionate manner to the provocation.

The accused, serving with the Assam Rifles, had an altercation with his wife at their house while he was in an inebriated state in 2008. While she was filling kerosene in the kitchen stove, he poured the kerosene on her and threw a lighted matchstick at her. She died after sustaining 95 per cent burns.

The Army lodged a complaint with the police and the soldier’s confessional statement was recorded by a judicial magistrate. Subsequently, the case was taken over by the Army for investigation and trial by court martial. He was tried under Section 69 of the Army Act contrary to Section 302 of the IPC for murder in 2009.

The accused had contended that he had been falsely implicated in the case and that the case did come under the definition of murder under Section 302 of the IPC but falls under Exception 4 to Section 300 as it amounts to culpable homicide not amounting to murder because here was no pre-mediation.

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