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Doli incapax is a term that means ‘incapable of wrongdoing.’ It’s a principle that protects children from being held criminally responsible for their actions.

According to the principle of Doli Incapax, in the case of India, it’s presumed that children under the age of 7 cannot understand the consequences of their actions. As a result, they are granted full immunity from criminal liability. 

Doli Incapax Meaning

Doli incapax is a Latin phrase used in the legal system, which means ‘incapable of doing harm or committing a crime.’ This principle presumes that a child cannot form the necessary criminal intent to commit an offence.

The maxim Doli Incapax is based on the following reasoning:

  • Criminal responsibility should only apply to those who intend to commit a crime.
  • Children below the age of 7 lack sufficient mental understanding to comprehend the consequences of their actions; thus, they do not possess the criminal intention or mens rea required to be held guilty of an offence.
  • Children need to be protected from the strictness of the law due to their tender age.

What is the Age Limit for Doli Capax IPC?

The age limit for Doli Capax under IPC is below 7 years of age, where children are presumed incapable of understanding the consequences of their actions and hence granted complete immunity from criminal liability.

Doli Incapax in IPC

Doli Incapax is mentioned in Sections 82 and 83 of the IPC. 

Section 82: Absolute Immunity

Section 82 of the Indian Penal Code, 1860 falls under the chapter called ‘General Exceptions.’ This section grants absolute immunity to any child under 7 years from being considered guilty of any offence. It states, “Nothing is an offence which is done by a child under 7 years of age.” This means that no child below the age of 7 can be held legally responsible for any criminal act.

The reason for this exemption is that children below the age of 7 cannot understand the difference between right and wrong. The law aims to protect them by granting complete immunity from criminal prosecution, trial, and conviction. This idea is rooted in the belief that infancy is a period of limited understanding, and therefore, young children should not be punished.

It’s important to note that the age of discretion, where a child can be held accountable for their actions, varies from country to country. Section 82 applies not only to offences under the Indian Penal Code but also extends its protection to offences under local and special laws.

Section 83: Qualified or Partial Immunity

Section 83 of the IPC provides partial immunity from criminal liability to children who are above 7 and below 12 years of age. According to this section:

  • If a child is above 7 and below 12 years old,
  • And if it is proven that the child has not yet reached a sufficient level of maturity to understand the nature and consequences of their actions on that particular occasion,
  • Then, any act committed by that child will not be considered an offence.

In other words, a child between 7 to 12 years of age can be excused from criminal liability only if it can be shown that, at the time of committing the offence, the child did not fully comprehend the gravity of their actions. To determine whether a child has enough understanding, various factors are taken into account, such as the nature of the act, the child’s behaviour before and after the incident, and how they behave during court proceedings.

For example, if a 10-year-old child steals a valuable bracelet from a friend’s house and then sells it for a lower price, the child’s conduct might indicate sufficient maturity to understand that stealing and selling the bracelet was wrong. In such a case, the child could be held guilty of theft under Section 378 of the IPC.

Case Laws for Doli Incapax

Hiralal Mallick v. State of Bihar (1977)

In this case, Hiralal Mallick, a 12-year-old boy, along with his two elder brothers, was charged with the homicide of Arjan Mallick, and they were convicted under Section 302 read with Section 34 of the Indian Penal Code (IPC). Hiralal had caused fatal injuries to Arjan’s neck with a sharp weapon as an act of revenge and then fled the scene with his brothers. Upon appeal, the High Court converted their conviction to one under Section 326 read with Section 34 IPC.

Considering Hiralal’s age at the time of the crime (12 years), the High Court took a compassionate view and reduced his sentence to 4 years of rigorous imprisonment. However, Hiralal appealed this decision to the Supreme Court through special leave.

The Supreme Court dismissed Hiralal’s appeal and upheld his conviction. The Court reasoned that the evidence pointed to a clear intention by Hiralal to endanger the life of the deceased, and there was no evidence to suggest that Hiralal was not mature enough to understand the consequences of his actions at the time of the offence.

The Court also highlighted that in cases where a crime is committed by a group of individuals acting together, the degree of criminal responsibility may differ based on each person’s role and the circumstances surrounding the crime and the applicability of Doli Incapax maxim. Thus, a personalised approach is necessary when assessing the culpability of each participant, considering factors like their capacity to understand the nature of their actions (doli capax), their age, and their expectations of the consequences.

Kakoo v. The State of Himachal Pradesh (1976) SC

In the case of Kakoo v. The State of Himachal Pradesh (1976) SC, the accused, Kakoo, who was 13 years old, was convicted of raping a 2-year-old child. He was sentenced to 4 years of rigorous imprisonment by the High Court. 

However, on appeal through Special leave under Article 136 of the Indian Constitution, it was argued that since the accused was a juvenile at the time of the crime, a more reformative approach should be taken. The court, considering Section 82 and Section 83 of the Indian Penal Code and the principle of Doli Incapax and emphasising the need for a humanitarian approach towards juvenile offenders, reduced the sentence to one year of rigorous imprisonment and a fine of Rs. 2000.

Ulla Mahapatra v. The King (1950) Orissa HC

In the case of Ulla Mahapatra v. The King (1950) Orissa HC, the appellant Ulla Mahapatra, an 11-year-old child, threatened and attacked the deceased with a knife, causing his death. He was convicted under Section 302 IPC and initially sentenced to transportation. However, on appeal, the Orissa High Court considered his age and ordered him to be sent to a reformatory school for 5 years instead of transportation, taking a more rehabilitative approach.

Shyam Bahadur Koeri v. State of Bihar (1967) Patna HC

In this case, a child aged below 7 years found a gold plate and did not report this fact to the Collector. After getting knowledge of the aforesaid fact, the Collector ordered the prosecution of the child under the Indian Treasure Trove Act of 1878. The Court held that the child being under 7 years of age is doli incapax and thus entitled to the benefit of Section 82 of IPC and ordered his acquittal.

Conclusion

The principle of Doli Incapax is a vital safeguard in the legal landscape, ensuring the protection of children from criminal liability. By recognising that young children lack the mental capacity to comprehend the consequences of their actions fully, Doli Incapax establishes a framework of immunity for children below 7 years of age, shielding them from any criminal responsibility.

Moreover, the principle extends partial immunity to children above 7 and below 12 years of age who have not attained sufficient maturity of understanding. 

FAQs

What does doli incapax mean in law?

Doli incapax means “incapable of doing harm” in law, referring to the principle that young children lack the mental capacity to be held criminally liable for their actions.

What is the IPC 82 and 83?

IPC Section 82 provides absolute immunity from criminal liability to children under 7 years of age, while Section 83 grants partial immunity to children above 7 and below 12 years of age if they lack sufficient maturity of understanding.

What is Section 82 of the IPC doli incapax?

Section 82 of the IPC, also known as doli incapax, states that “Nothing is an offence which is done by a child under 7 years of age,” providing absolute immunity from criminal prosecution for children below 7 years old.


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