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IPC Codes to Know


RELEVANT PROVISIONS FOR DOCTORS UNDER INDIAN PENAL CODE, 1860

RELEVANT PROVISIONS FOR DOCTORS UNDER INDIAN PENAL CODE, 1860

Dr K K Aggarwal, Mr Nimesh Jain, Mr Atul Sharma

According to the provisions of Indian Penal Code 1860 (IPC) any act of commission or omission is not a crime unless it is accompanied by a guilty mind (MENS REA).

The acts are not punishable only because it led to some mischievous results unless associated with intention or mental attitude of the person.

Most of the times doctors treatment is in good faith, with the consent of the patient and hence most of the provisions of IPC are not applicable to the doctors unless or until there is rashness or gross negligence.

The following Sections of IPC are related to medical professionals:

Sec. 29: Deals with documents

29. "Document".--The word "document" denotes any matter expressed or described upon any substance by means of letters, figures or marks, or by more than one of those means, intended to be used, or which may be used, as evidence of that matter.

Explanation 1: It is immaterial by what means or upon what substance the letters, figures or marks are formed, or whether the evidence is intended for, or may be used in, a Court of Justice, or not.

Illustrations

A writing expressing the terms of a contract, which may be used as evidence of the contract, is a document.

A cheque upon a banker is a document.

A power-of-attorney is a document.

A map or plan which is intended to be used or which may be used as evidence, is a document.

A writing containing directions or instructions is a document.

Explanation 2.: Whatever is expressed by means of letters, figures or marks as explained by mercantile or other usage, shall be deemed to be expressed by such letters, figures or marks within the meaning of this section, although the same may not be actually expressed.

Illustration

A writes his name on the back of a bill of exchange payable to his order. The meaning of the endorsement as explained by mercantile usage, is that the bill is to be paid to the holder. The endorsement is a document, and must be construed in the same manner as if the words "pay to the holder" or words to that effect had been written over the signature.

Sec. 52: Describes "good faith"

"Good faith": Nothing is said to be done or believed in "good faith" which is done or believed without due care and attention.

Sec. 90: Related to consent: Consent known to be given under fear or misconception:

A consent is not such a consent as is intended by any section of this Code, if the consent is given by a person under fear of injury, or under a misconception of fact, and if the person doing the act knows, or has reason to believe, that the consent was given in consequence of such fear or misconception; or Consent of insane person.

Consent of insane person- if the consent is given by a person who, from unsoundness of mind, or intoxication, is unable to understand the nature and consequence of that to which he gives his consent; or Consent of child.

Consent of child.- unless the contrary appears from the context, if the consent is given by a person who is under twelve years of age.

Sec. 176: Failure to inform police whenever essential

176. Omission to give notice or information to public servant by person legally bound to give it: Whoever, being legally bound to give any notice or to furnish information on any subject to any public servant, as such, intentionally omits to give such notice or to furnish such information in the manner and at the time required by law, shall be punished with simple imprisonment for a term which may extend to one month, or with fine which may extend to five hundred rupees, or with both; or, if the notice or information required to be given respects the commission of an offence, or is required for the purpose of preventing the commission of an offence, or in order to the apprehension of an offender, with simple imprisonment for a term which may extend to six months, or with fine which may extend to one thousand rupees, or with both; [or, if the notice or information required to be given is required by an order passed under sub-section (1) of section 565 of the Code of Criminal Procedure, 1898 (5 of 1898), 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.]

Sec. 269-271: Related to spread of infectious disease and disobedience of a quarantine rule.

269. Negligent act likely to spread infection of disease dangerous to life: Whoever unlawfully or negligently does any act which is, and which he knows or has reason to believe to be, likely to spread the infection of any disease dangerous to life, shall be punished with imprisonment of either description for a term which may extend to six months, or with fine, or with both.

270. Malignant act likely to spread infection of disease dangerous to life:

Whoever malignantly does any act which is, and which he knows or has reason to believe to be, likely to spread the infection of any disease dangerous to life, shall be punished with imprisonment of either description for a term which may extend to two years, or with fine, or with both.

271. Disobedience to quarantine rule: Whoever knowingly disobeys any rule made and promulgated for putting any vessel into a state of quarantine, or for regulating the intercourse of vessels in a state of quarantine with the shore or with other vessels, for regulating the intercourse between places where an infectious disease prevails and other places, shall be punished with imprisonment of either description for a term which may extend to six months, or with fine, or with both.

Sec. 272-273: Related to adulteration of food and drinks.

272. Adulteration of food or drink intended for sale: Whoever adulterates any article of food or drink, so as to make such article noxious as food or drink, intending to sell such article as food or drink, or knowing it to be likely that the same will be sold as food or drink, 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.

273. Sale of noxious food or drink: Whoever sells, or offers or exposes for sale, as food or drink, any article which has been rendered or has become noxious, or is in a state unfit for food or drink, knowing or having reason to believe that the same is noxious as food or drink, 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.

Sec. 274-276: Related to adulteration of drugs.

274. Adulteration of drugs: Whoever adulterates any drug or medical preparation in such a manner as to lessen the efficacy or change the operation of such drug or medical preparation, or to make it noxious, intending that it shall be sold or used for, or knowing it to be likely that it will be sold or used for, any medicinal purpose, as it had not undergone such adulteration, 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.

275. Sale of adulterated drugs.--Whoever, knowing any drug or medical preparation to have been adulterated in such a manner as to lessen its efficacy, to change its operation, or to render it noxious, sells the same, or offers or exposes it for sale, or issues it from any dispensary for medicinal purposes as unadulterated, or causes it to be used for medicinal purposes by any person not knowing of the adulteration, 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.

 

276. Sale of drug as a different drug or preparation: Whoever knowingly sells, or offers or exposes for sale, or issues from a dispensary for medicinal purposes, any drug or medical preparation, as a different drug or medical preparation, 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.

Sec. 304-A: Deals with death caused by a negligent act.

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.]

Sec. 306-309: Related with abatement of suicide.

306. Abetment of suicide: If any person commits suicide, whoever abets the commission of such suicide, shall be punished with imprisonment of either description for a term which may extend to ten years, and shall also be liable to fine.

307. Attempt to murder: Whoever does any act with such intention or knowledge, and under such circumstances that, if he by that act caused death, he would be guilty of murder, shall be punished with imprisonment of either description for a term which may extend to ten years, and shall also be liable to fine; and, if hurt is caused to any person by such act, the offender shall be liable either to [imprisonment for life], or to such punishment as is herein before mentioned.

Attempts by life-convicts.

Attempts by life-convicts: [When any person offending under this section is under sentence of [imprisonment for life], he may, if hurt is caused, be punished with death.]

 

Illustrations

 

(a) A shoots at Z with intention to kill him, under such circumstances that, if death ensued A would be guilty of murder. A is liable to punishment under this section

(b) A, with the intention of causing the death of a child of tender years, exposes it in a desert place A has committed the offence defined by this section, though the death of the child does not ensue.

(c) A, intending to murder Z, buys a gun and loads it. A has not yet committed the offence. A fires the gun at Z. He has committed the offence defined in this section, and, if by such firing he wounds Z, he is liable to the punishment provided by the latter part of 3*[the first paragraph of] this section.

(d) A, intending to murder Z by poison, purchases poison and mixes the same with food which remains in A's keeping; A has not yet committed the offence in this section. A places the food on Z's table or delivers it to Z's servants to place it on Z's table. A has committed the offence defined in this section.

308. Attempt to commit culpable homicide: Whoever does any act with such intention or knowledge and under such circumstances that, if he by that act caused death, he would be guilty of culpable homicide not amounting to murder, shall be punished with imprisonment of either description for a term which may extend to three years, or with fine, or with both; and, if hurt is caused to any person by such act, shall be punished with imprisonment of either description for a term which may extend to seven years, or with fine, or with both.

Illustration

A, on grave and sudden provocation, fires a pistol at Z, under such circumstances that if he there by caused death he would be guilty of culpable homicide not amounting to murder. A has committed the offence defined in this section.

309. Attempt to commit suicide.--Whoever attempts to commit suicide and does any act towards the commission of such offence, shall be punished with simple imprisonment for a term which may extend to one year 1*[or with fine, or with both.]

Sec. 312-314: Related to causing mis-carriage, abortion and hiding such facts.

312. Causing miscarraige.--Whoever voluntarily causes a woman with child to miscarry, shall if such miscarriage be not caused in good faith for the purpose of saving the life of the woman, be punished with imprisonment of either description for a term which may extend to three years, or with fine, or with both; and, if the woman be quick with child, shall be punished with imprisonment of either description for a term which may extend to seven years, and shall also be liable to fine.

Explanation.-A woman who causes herself to miscarry, is within

the meaning of this section.

313. Causing miscarriage without woman's consent.—Whoever commits the offence defined in the last preceding section without the consent of the woman, whether the woman is quick with child or not, shall be punished with [imprisonment for life], or with imprisonment of either description for a term which may extend to ten years, and shall also be liable to fine.

314. Death caused by act done with intent to cause miscarriage:

Whoever, with intent to cause the miscarriage of a woman with child, does any act which causes the death of such woman, shall be punished with imprisonment of either description for a term which may extend to ten years, and shall also be liable to fine; if act done without woman's consent, if act done without woman's consent and if the act is done without the consent of the woman, shall be punished either with [imprisonment for life], or with the punishment above mentioned.

Explanation.-It is not essential to this offence that the offender should know that the act is likely to cause death.

Sec. 315-316: Deals with act to prevent child being born alive or to cause it to die after birth.

Section 315: Act done with intent to prevent child being born alive or to cause it to die after birth: Whoever before the birth of any child does any act with the intention of thereby preventing that child from being born alive or causing it to die after its birth, and does by such act prevent that child from being born alive, or causes it to die after its birth, shall, if such act be not caused in good faith for the purpose of saving the life of the mother, be punished with imprisonment of either description for a term which may extend to ten years, or with fine, or with both.

Section 316: Causing death of quick unborn child by act amounting to culpable homicide: Whoever does any act under such circumstances, that if he thereby caused death he would be guilty of culpable homicide, and does by such act cause the death of a quick unborn child, shall be punished with imprisonment of either description for a term which may extend to ten years, and shall also be liable to fine.

Illustration

A, knowing that he is likely to cause the death of a pregnant woman, does an act which, if it caused the death of the woman, would amount to culpable homicide. The woman is injured, but does not die; but the death of an unborn quick child with which she is pregnant is thereby caused. A is guilty of the offence defined in this section.

Sec. 319-322: Related to causing hurt, grievous hurt, loss of vision, loss of hearing or disfigurement.

319. Hurt: Whoever causes bodily pain, disease or infirmity to any person is said to cause hurt.

320. Grievous hurt: The following kinds of hurt only are designated as "grievous":-

First, Emasculation.

Secondly, Permanent privation of the sight of either eye.

Thirdly, Permanent privation of the hearing of either ear.

Fourthly, Privation of any member or joint.

Fifthly, Destruction or permanent impairing of the powers of any member or joint.

Sixthly, Permanent disfiguration of the head or face.

Seventhly, Fracture or dislocation of a bone or tooth.

Eighthly, Any hurt which endangers life or which causes the sufferer to be during the space of twenty days in severe bodily pain, or unable to follow his ordinary pursuits.

321. Voluntarily causing hurt: Whoever does any act with the intention of thereby causing hurt to any person, or with the knowledge that he is likely thereby to cause hurt to any person, and does thereby cause hurt to any person, is said "voluntarily to cause hurt".

322. Voluntarily causing grievous hurt: Whoever voluntarily causes hurt, if the hurt which he intends to cause or knows himself to be likely to cause is grievous hurt, and if the hurt which he causes is grievous hurt, is said "voluntarily to cause grievous hurt".

Explanation - A person is not said voluntarily to cause grievous hurt except when he both causes grievous hurt and intends or knows himself to be likely to cause grievous hurt. But he is said voluntarily to cause grievous hurt, if intending or knowing himself to be likely to cause grievous hurt of one kind, he actually causes grievous hurt of another kind.

Illustration

A, intending of knowing himself to be likely permanently to disfigure Z's face, gives Z a blow which does not permanently disfigure Z's face, but which causes Z to suffer severe bodily pain for the space of twenty days. A has voluntarily caused grievous hurt.

Sec. 336-338: Deals with causing hurt by rash or negligent act.

336. Act endangering life or personal safety of others: Whoever does any act so rashly or negligently as to endanger human life or the personal safety others, shall be punished with imprisonment of either description for a term which may extend to three months or with fine which may extend to two hundred and fifty rupees, 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.

Of wrongful restraint and wrongful confinement.

Sec. 340-342: Related to wrongful confinement.

Section 340: Wrongful confinement: Whoever wrongfully restrains any person in such a manner as to prevent that person from proceeding beyond certain circumscribing limits, is said "wrongfully to confine" that person.

Illustrations

(a) A causes Z to go within a walled space, and locks Z. Z is thus prevented from proceeding in any direction beyond the circumscribing line of wall. A wrongfully confines z.

(b) A places men with firearms at the outlets of a building, and tells Z that they will fire at Z if Z attempts leave the building. A wrongfully confines Z.

341. Punishment for wrongful restraint: Whoever wrongfully restrains any person shall be punished with simple imprisonment for a term which may extend to one month, or with fine which may extend to five hundred rupees, or with both.

342. Punishment for wrongful confinement: Whoever wrongfully confines any person shall be punished with simple imprisonment of either description for a term which may extend to one year, or with fine which may extend to one thousand rupees, or with both.

Sec. 491: Related to breech of contract.

Breach of contract to attend on and supply wants of helpless Person: Whoever, being bound by a lawful contract to attend on or to supply the wants of any person who, by reason of youth, or of unsoundness of mind, or of a disease or bodily weakness, is helpless or incapable of providing for his own safety or of supplying his own wants, voluntarily omits so to do, shall be punished with imprisonment of either description for a term which may extend to three months, or with fine which may extend to two hundred rupees, or with both.

Sec. 499: Related to defamation.

Defamation: Whoever by words either spoken or intended to be read, or by signs or by visible representations, makes or publishes any imputation concerning any person intending to harm, or knowing or having reason to believe that such imputation will harm, the reputation of such person, is said, except in the cases hereinafter excepted, to defame that person.

Explanation 1- It may amount to defamation to impute anything to a deceased person, if the imputation would harm the reputation of that person if living, and is intended to be hurtful to the fellings of his family or other near relatives.

Explanation 2 - It may amount to defamation to make an imputation concerning a company or an association or collection of persons as such.

Explanation 3- An imputation in the form of an alternative or expressed ironically, may amount to defamation.

Explanation 4- No imputation is said to harm a person's reputation, unless that imputation directly or indirectly, in the estimation of others, lowers the moral or intellectual character of that person, or lowers the character of that person in respect of his caste or of his calling, or lowers the credit of that person, or causes it to be believed that the body of that person is in a loathsome state, or in a state generally considered as disgraceful.

Illustrations

(a) A says-"Z is an honest man; he never stole B's watch",intending to cause it to be believed that Z did steal B's watch. This is defamation, unless it fall within one of the exceptions.

(b) A is asked who stole B's watch. A points to Z, intending to cause it to be believed that Z stole B's watch. This is defamation, unless it fall within one of the exceptions.

(c) A draws a picture of Z running away with B's watch, intending it to be believed that Z stole B's watch. This is defamation, unless it fall within one of the exceptions.

First Exception- Imputation of truth which public good requires to be made or published- It is not defamation to impute anything which is true concerning any person, if it be for the public good that the imputation should be made or published. Whether or not it is for the public good is a question of fact.

Second Exception- Public conduct of public servants.-It is not defamation to express in good faith any opinion whatever respecting the conduct of a public servant in the discharge of his public functions, or respecting his character, so far as his character appears in that conduct, and no further.

Third Exception- Conduct of any person touching any public question. -It is not defamation to express in good faith any opinion whatever respecting the conduct of any person touching any public question, and respecting his character, so far as his character appears in that conduct, and no further.

Illustration

It is not defamation in A to express in good faith any opinion whatever resepting Z's conduct in petitioning Government on a public question, in signing a requisition for a meeting on a public question, in presiding or attending at such meeting, in forming or joining any society which invites the public support, in voting or canvassing for a particular candidate for any situation in the efficient discharge of the duties of which the public is interested.

Fourth Exception- Publication of reports of proceedings of courts- It is not defamation to publish a substantially true report of the proceedings of a Court of Justice, or of the result of any such proceedings.

Explanation.-A Justice of the Peace or other officer holding an enquiry in open Court preliminary to a trial in a Court of Justice, is a Court within the meaning of the above section.

Fifth Exception- Merits of case decided in Court or conduct of witnesses and others concerned. It is not defamation to express in good faith any opinion whatever respecting the merits of any case, civil or criminal, which has been decided by a Court of Justice, or respecting the conduct of any person as a party, witness or agent, in any such case, or respecting the character of such person, as far as his character appears in that conduct, and no further.

Illustrations

(a) A says-"I think Z's evidence on that trial is so contradictory that he must be stupid or dishonest." A is within this exception if he says this in good faith, inasmuch as the opinion which he expresses respects Z's character as it appears in Z's conduct as a witness, and no farther.

(b) But if A says-"I do not believe what Z asserted at that trial because I know him to be a man without veracity"; A is not within this exception, inasmuch as the opinion which expresses of Z's character, is an opinion not founded on Z's conduct as a witness.

Sixth Exception- Merits of public performance.-It is not defamation to express in good faith any opinion respecting the merits of any performance which its author has submitted to the judgment of the public, or respecting the character of the author so far as his character appears in such performance, and no farther.

Explanation- A performance may be submitted to the judgment of the public expressly or by acts on the part of the author which imply such submission to the judgment of the public.

Illustrations

(a) A person who publishes a book, submits that book to the judgment of the public.

(b) A person who makes a speech in public, submits that speech to the judgment of the public.

(c) An actor or singer who appears on a public stage, submits his acting or singing to the judgment of the public.

(d) A says of a book published by Z-"Z's book is foolish; Z must be a weak man. Z's book is indecent; Z must be a man of impure mind." A is within the exception, if he says this in good faith, inasmuch as the opinion which he expresses of Z respects Z's character only so far as it appears in Z's book, and no further.

(e) But if A says-"I am not surprised that Z's book is foolish and indecent, for he is a weak man and a libertine." A is not within this exception, inasmuch as the opinion which he expresses of Z's character is an opinion not founded on Z's book.

Seventh Exception- Censure passed in good faith by person having lawful authority over another.-It is not defamation in a person having over another any authority, either conferred by law or arising out of a lawful contract made with that other, to pass in good faith any censure on the conduct of that other in matters to which such lawful authority relates.

Illustration

A Judge censuring in good faith the conduct of a witness, or of an officer of the Court; a head of a department censuring in good faith those who are under his orders; a parent censuring in good faith a child in the presence of other children; a schoolmaster, whose authority is derived from a parent, censuring in good faith a pupil in the presence of other pupils; a master censuring a servant in good faith for remissness in service; a banker censuring in good faith the cashier of his bank for the conduct of such cashier as such cashier are within this exception.

Eighth Exception- Accusation preferred in good faith to authorised person - It is not defamation to prefer in good faith an accusation against any person to any of those who have lawful authority over that person with respect to the subject-matter of accusation.

Illustration

If A in good faith accuses Z before a Magistrate; if A in good faith complains of the conduct of Z, a servant, to Z's master;if A in good faith complains of the conduct of Z, a child, to Z's father-A is within this exception.

Ninth Exception- Imputation made in good faith by person for protection of his or other's interests.-It is not defamation to make an imputation on the character of another provided that the imputation be made in good faith for the protection of the interest of the person making it, or of any other person, or for the public good.

Illustrations

(a) A, a shopkeeper, says to B, who manages his business-"Sell nothing to Z unless he pays you ready money, for I have no opinion of his honesty." A is within the exception, if he has made this imputation on Z in good faith for the protection of his own interests.

(b) A, a Magistrate, in making a report to his own superior officer, casts an imputation on the character of Z. Here, if the imputation is made in good faith, and for the public good, A is within the exception.

Tenth Exception: Caution intended for good of person to whom conveyed or for public good- It is not defamation to convey a caution, in good faith, to one person against another, provided that such caution be intended for the good of the person to whom it is conveyed, or of some person in whom that person is interested, or for the public good.

Section 304 and 304-A

There is lot of discrepancy while applying these sections in cases of professional negligence by doctors. Most of the times the police authorities register the cases of professional negligence deaths under Sec. 304 of IPC. According to this Section the offence is non-bailable. This causes lot of hardship, bad reputation and mental agony to the doctors. In fact the police should register the cases of deaths due to medical negligence under Sec. 304-A of IPC, in which the offence is bailable and the doctor can be released on bail. The judgment has been passed by Bombay High Court in Criminal Revision application no. 282 of 1996 (Dr. Mrs. Mrudula S. Deshpandevs State of Maharashtra) dated 28th November 1998(3). The basic difference is that in Sec. 304 there is intentional act of negligence while in 304-A the act is never done with the intention to cause death.

Grievous hurt

Sec. 319-322 of IPC are related to causing grievous hurt for example loss of limbs, loss of vision, loss of hearing or disfigurement etc. Sec. 336-338 deal with causing grievous hurt by rash or negligent act.

Examples: (1) While giving IV fluids suppose there is leakage of fluid in surrounding tissue resulting in spasm of vessels and subsequent necrosis of limbs. (2) A surgical procedure is done on eye, limbs, face etc. without adequate aseptic precautions resulting in local infection. This may lead to loss of eyes, limb or disfigurement of face, (3) An unqualified doctor performing surgical procedure which results in permanent damage to eyes, limbs, hearing etc.

Wrongful confinement (Sec. 340-342 of IPC)

A patient cannot be detained on the grounds of non-payment of hospital charges. This may constitute the offense of wrongful confinement under Sec. 340-342 of IPC. Doctors can take advance or fee from the patient before starting the treatment.

If a police officer is keeping the doctor in detention, in cases of bailable offenses, he is liable for the offense of wrongful confinement under these Sections of IPC.

Definitions

Crime or offence means any act or ommission which is contrary to any law or statute for the time being in force.

Summons is the process of court asking the opposite party to appear and answer the allegation preferred by the party who has brought action.

Warrant means an order issued by the court, magistrate or a competent judicial authority, directing a police officer to make arrest, seize or search or to do any other work incidental to administration of justice.

A Warrant case is related to an offence punishable with death, life imprisonment or imprisonment for more than two years. Example: If a doctor helps a pregnant woman in getting rid of the child or to cause its death after its birth.

Cases other than warrant cases are Summons cases. If a doctor acts negligently by using infected syringe or instrument resulting in an infection to an uninfected patient exemplifies a Summons case.

Cognizable offences are those in which a police officer may arrest without warrant, according of Schedule I of Criminal Procedure Code (CPC).

Non-cognizable offences are those in which a police officer can’t arrest without a warrant, e.g. a doctor knowingly disobeying a quarantine rule is liable to be punished with imprisonment upto 6 months or fine.

Bailable Offences are those in which bail can be granted by any law for the time being in force. In such cases bail is matter of right. The court can’t refuse bail and the police has no right to keep the doctor in custody. If any police officer puts a doctor in detention in such cases, he is liable for the offense of wrongful confinement under Sec. 340-342 of IPC(4).

Non-Bailable offences are offences other than the bailable or an offence in which bail can’t be granted. These are the serious offences in which a person may be convicted and imprisoned for term extending more than ten years. For example, offences under transplantation of Human Organ Act 1994.

Presumption of innocence: Law presumes that a person is innocent till his guilt is proved. The onus of proof is on prosecution(5).

Mistake of law: "Ignorentiajuris non excusat, means ignorance of law or mistake of law (existence or mistaken understanding) is not excusable. Erroneous or wrong conclusion of law is not a valid defense. For example, if a doctor carries out prenatal test intended to abort a female fetus, can’t avoid prosecution by saying that I was unaware of any law which punishes such act.

Mistake of fact is a situation where a person not intending to do unlawful act, does so because of wrong conclusion or understanding of fact. The guilty mind was never there while doing the act. The person may not be held responsible in such cases.

Res Judicata: This doctrine of law means "the things have been decided". According to this principle, once the case is completed between two parties, it cannot be tried again between the same parties. Suppose a patient sues a hospital for any wrong, damages or malpractice and the things are decided, he cannot subsequently sue the doctor again separately for the same negligence.

Res Ipsa Loquitur is a situation of gross negligence or rashness. The things are so obvious that they "speak for themselves". Most of the time there is no need for any proof of negligence in such cases. Common examples include giving blood transfusion to wrong patient, or operating on wrong side of the body or wrong patient.

Consent in Criminal Law (Sec. 90 IPC)

A valid consent must be given voluntarily, by an adult who is not of unsound mind. The consent must be given after reasonable understanding and without any misrepre-sentation or hiding of the facts. Thus the consent should be an informed consent, preferably in writing and in presence of witnesses. All components of valid consent are applicable even for the consent in criminal law. According to criminal law, it is an offence to cause injury to any person even with his consent. No person has right to give consent to suffer death or grievous hurt. This point has to be kept in mind specially during cases of organ transplantation. The donor may have given consent under family, social or financial pressures. In cases of dead donors if there is no expressed will, the body is the property of the heirs and their consent is required.

Criminal Liability

A person who commits a wrongful act, shall be liable for it. The crimes are public wrongs and aim of criminal proceeding is to punish the wrong doer. The law imposes liability on him who fails to perform duty. The wrongful act may be (a) Intentional or wilful wrong this usually doesn’t apply in medical practice as no doctor has intention to cause harm to his patient, (b) negligent act – the doctor fails to take proper care, precaution and is just indifferent to the consequences of his act. Lack of skill proportional to risk undertaken also amounts to negligence; (c) wrongs of strict liability created by some special statutes like transplantation of human organ act (1994)(6).

When to Inform Police

A doctor has to inform the police in following circumstances (personal communication Dr. JayatNavrange). Failure to inform police in such cases may result in penal consequences. Police must be informed in (i) cases of suspected homicide, (ii) cases of suicidal deaths, (iii) unknown, unconscious patient, (iv) death on operation table, (v) suspected unnatural death, (vi) sudden, unexpected, violent and unexplained death, (vii) instant death after treatment or reaction of medicine, and a (viii) married lady dying within seven years of marriage due to any reason.

It is advisable to inform police in following circumstances (i) undiagnosed death within 24 hrs. of admission or specially if there is any suspicion, (ii) any cases of poisoning, (iii) accidental deaths, and (iv) in cases of hospital deaths if (a) accidents not related to medical management like fall from staircase etc., though there is no legal obligation on doctor, it is advisable to inform the police, (b) unexpected or rare complications may occur sometimes, e.g. a child may vomit, aspirate the content and may die. This is very unpredictable and it is not obligatory on part of the doctor to inform such deaths. But it is better if we inform the police because sometimes patient’s relatives may allege negligence in such cases. In cases of death due to negligence in treatment there are no specific provisions to inform the police but in order to avoid untoward incidences it is better to inform the police.

"Brought dead cases": In such cases, if the cause of death is apparent and there are no reasonable grounds to suspect some medico-legal complications then it is not necessary to inform the police. If the cause of death can’t be ascertained in any case then it is desirable to send the body for postmortem examination preferably with the help of the police. It is advisable to suggest postmortem in the following circumstances: (i) whenever death is sudden, unexpected or unexplained, (ii) accidental deaths which may be roadside, domestic or industrial, (iii) when precise cause of death is needed for insurance claim purposes etc., and (iv) as a help to arrive at final diagnosis.

Information to police shall preferably be in writing and the written acknowledgement should be obtained. If the information is telephonic one must note down name, buckle number and designation of the police.

Can a Doctor be Arrested?

Doctors have no immunity against arrest (as any other citizen of India) for the various criminal acts as per the provisions of IPC or CPC of India.

Illegal organ trading, unlawful sex determination etc. are non-bailable offenses. But the question is whether a doctor be arrested for:

(a) alleged medical negligence during day to day care of a patient,

(b) unexplained hospital deaths like SIDS etc.,

(c) postoperative complication or failure of operation;

(d) not attending or refusing a patient (who was not already under his care) who becomes serious or dies and

( f ) not attending a case of roadside accident.

Recently, the chairman of a hospital was arrested for not complying with the Supreme Court directives in a roadside accident. In this particular case the patient died while being shifted to other hospital. The Supreme Court directives (criminal writ petition no. 270 of 1988) in a roadside accident include:

• The medical aid should be instantaneous. It is the duty of the registered medical practitioner to attend the injured and render medical aid, treatment without waiting for procedural formalities unless the injured person or guardian (in case of minor) desires otherwise.

• The effort to save the person and preserve the life, should be top priority, not only of the doctor but also of the police officer or any other citizen who happens to notice such an accident.

• The professional obligation of protecting life extends to every doctor, whether at Government hospital or otherwise.

• The obligation being total, absolute and paramount, no statutory or procedural formalities can interfere in discharging this duty.

• Whenever better or specific assistance is required, it is the duty of treating doctor to see that the patient reaches the proper expert as early as possible.

• Non-compliance of these directives may invite prosecution under provisions of Motor Vehicle Act or IPC(7).

If FIR is lodged by patient or relatives then the police may arrest the doctor. Hence better approach in cases where we feel that the patients or relatives may create nuisance will be as follows:

1. The doctor should lodge a FIR that a particular incidence has happened in my hospital.

2. A crisis management committee may be formed at each Taluka or District level. The committee shall include doctors, social workers, legal personalities, politicians, press reporters etc. The committee members may meet the police officers and request them for complete investigation of the incidence and to avoid prosecution till the guilt is proved. The committee can also request the press reporters not to give unnecessary publicity to such cases. The Government of Kerala (G.R. no. 3231/SS-B4/92/Home dated 20.09.1993) has issued the following instructions if there are any cases of criminal negligence against a private practitioner, doctor or private hospital. According to G.R. the investigating Deputy Superintendent of Police shall refer the case to a panel of Superintendent of Police, commissioner of Police, District Medical Officer or Principal of Medical College. Still if the views differ, the opinion of an apex body consisting of Director of Health Services and expert in that particular speciality may be taken. The affected doctor is also free to approach the apex body with appeals(8).

Legal Rights of an Arrested Person

The arrested person shall be communicated with the particulars of offence and the ground for arrest. If the offense is bailable, then the person should be informed and the arrangement for the bail may be made. If the police officer refuses to release such person on bail, he will be liable for damages for wrongful confinement. Sometimes a police officer may register an offense under Sec. 304 of IPC instead of 304-A in order to detain the accused doctor. In such cases officer may have to face serious consequences. The person shall not be subjected to more restraint than necessary to prevent his escape. If there are any offensive weapons belonging to the arrested person, these weapons may be seized. The arrested person must be produced before a magistrate having jurisdiction in that case. No police officer shall detain in custody an arrested person for more than 24 hours unless a special order from a magistrate is obtained(9).

Anticipatory Bail: In order to avoid frivolous accusations, there is provision of anticipatory bail. This may be granted as a protection in offences which are non-bailable. It is direction to release applicant on bail, if there is arrest. Once granted it remains in force. Pre-requisites for anticipatory bail are: (i) there must be reasonable apprehension of arrest, (ii) the alleged offence must be non-bailable, and (iii) the registration of FIR is not necessary.

Procedure for Bail: The accused is required to execute his personal bond at the police station with or without surety. The surety may be a close relative, a friend or a neighbour, who is required to undertake to pay the said amount in case of absconding of the accused.

Do’s and Don’ts

  • Inform police whenever necessary.
  • Extend all possible co-operation to the police.
  • Furnish copies of medical records to police, court or relatives whenever demanded. Consent of patient may be taken while providing information to police.
  • Follow the legal procedures or provisions.
  • Have a valid informed consent for the treatment(10).
  • Preserve the documents, records specially in medico-legal, controversial or complicated cases.
  • Insist for post-mortem examination if the cause of death can’t be ascertained.
  • Involve medical associations, medico-legal cells, voluntary organizations whenever legal problem arises.
  • Consult your lawyer before giving any reply.
  • Don’t become panicky.
  • Don't manipulate or tamper with the documents.
  • Don’t do unlawful or unethical acts.
  • Don’t issue false or bogus certificates. Certificate was issued on request is no defense.
  • Don’t neglect the treatment while completing legal formalities specially in serious or emergency situation.

The Supreme Court in the case of medical negligence held as under:

“Jacob Mathew vs State Of Punjab & Anr”:

  1. Negligence is the breach of a duty caused by omission to do something which a reasonable man guided by those considerations which ordinarily regulate the conduct of human affairs would do, or doing something which a prudent and reasonable man would not do. The definition of negligence as given in Law of Torts, Ratanlal & Dhirajlal (edited by Justice G.P. Singh), referred to hereinabove, holds good. Negligence becomes actionable on account of injury resulting from the act or omission amounting to negligence attributable to the person sued. The essential components of negligence are three: 'duty', 'breach' and 'resulting damage'.
  2. Negligence in the context of medical profession necessarily calls for a treatment with a difference. To infer rashness or negligence on the part of a professional, in particular a doctor, additional considerations apply. A case of occupational negligence is different from one of professional negligence. A simple lack of care, an error of judgment or an accident, is not proof of negligence on the part of a medical professional. So long as a doctor follows a practice acceptable to the medical profession of that day, he cannot be held liable for negligence merely because a better alternative course or method of treatment was also available or simply because a more skilled doctor would not have chosen to follow or resort to that practice or procedure which the accused followed. When it comes to the failure of taking precautions what has to be seen is whether those precautions were taken which the ordinary experience of men has found to be sufficient; a failure to use special or extraordinary precautions which might have prevented the particular happening cannot be the standard for judging the alleged negligence. So also, the standard of care, while assessing the practice as adopted, is judged in the light of knowledge available at the time of the incident, and not at the date of trial. Similarly, when the charge of negligence arises out of failure to use some particular equipment, the charge would fail if the equipment was not generally available at that particular time (that is, the time of the incident) at which it is suggested it should have been used.
  3. A professional may be held liable for negligence on one of the two findings: either he was not possessed of the requisite skill which he professed to have possessed, or, he did not exercise, with reasonable competence in the given case, the skill which he did possess. The standard to be applied for judging, whether the person charged has been negligent or not, would be that of an ordinary competent person exercising ordinary skill in that profession. It is not possible for every professional to possess the highest level of expertise or skills in that branch which he practices. A highly skilled professional may be possessed of better qualities, but that cannot be made the basis or the yardstick for judging the performance of the professional proceeded against on indictment of negligence.
  4. The test for determining medical negligence as laid down in Bolam's case [1957] 1 W.L.R. 582, 586 holds good in its applicability in India.
  5. The jurisprudential concept of negligence differs in civil and criminal law. What may be negligence in civil law may not necessarily be negligence in criminal law. For negligence to amount to an offence, the element of mens rea must be shown to exist. For an act to amount to criminal negligence, the degree of negligence should be much higher i.e. gross or of a very high degree. Negligence which is neither gross nor of a higher degree may provide a ground for action in civil law but cannot form the basis for prosecution.
  6. The word 'gross' has not been used in Section 304A of IPC, yet it is settled that in criminal law negligence or recklessness, to be so held, must be of such a high degree as to be 'gross'. The expression 'rash or negligent act' as occurring in Section 304A of the IPC has to be read as qualified by the word 'grossly'.
  7. To prosecute a medical professional for negligence under criminal law it must be shown that the accused did something or failed to do something which in the given facts and circumstances no medical professional in his ordinary senses and prudence would have done or failed to do. The hazard taken by the accused doctor should be of such a nature that the injury which resulted was most likely imminent.
  8. Res ipsa loquitur is only a rule of evidence and operates in the domain of civil law specially in cases of torts and helps in determining the onus of proof in actions relating to negligence. It cannot be pressed in service for determining per se the liability for negligence within the domain of criminal law. Res ipsa loquitur has, if at all, a limited application in trial on a charge of criminal negligence.

“Martin D’Souza vs Mohammed Isfaq”

The bench of Justices Markandeya Katju & R M Lodha ruled that “courts must first refer complaints of medical negligence to a competent doctor or a panel of experts in the field before issuing notice to the allegedly negligent doctor. This is necessary to avoid harassment to doctors who may not be ultimately found to be negligent. We further warn the police officials not to arrest or harass doctors unless the facts clearly come within the parameter laid down in Jacob Mathew’s case, otherwise the policemen will themselves have to face legal action”.