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Definition of 'Voluntarily'

Section 39 of the Indian Penal Code, 1860.

A person is said to cause an effect “voluntarily” when he causes it by means whereby he intended to cause it, or by means which, at the time of employing those means, he knew or had reason to believe to be likely to cause it.

Illustration: A sets fire, by night, to an inhabited house in a large town, for the purpose of facilitating a robbery and thus causes the death of a person. Here, A may not have intended to cause death, and may even be sorry that death has been caused by his act; yet, if he knew that he was likely to cause death, he has caused death voluntarily.

The word ‘voluntarily’ is defined in relation to the causation of effects and not to the doing of acts from which those effects result. It has been given a peculiar meaning, differing widely from its ordinary meaning in the Code. In general, the Code makes no distinction between cases in which a man causes an effect designedly and cases in which he causes it knowingly or having reason to believe that he is likely to cause it. If the effect is a probable consequence of the means used by him, he causes it 'voluntarily' whether he really meant to cause it or not. He is not allowed to urge that he did not know or was not sure that the consequence would follow; but he must answer for it just as if he had intended to cause it.

Bare reading of this Section shows that person need not intend to cause a certain effect. If an act is probable consequence of the means used by him, he is said to have caused it voluntarily whether he really means to cause it or not. Section implicitly lays down the principle that a man is presumed to intend the probable consequences of his act.1)

An act or omission must be treated as a voluntary act or omission, for the purpose of criminal law, if it may have been avoided by the exercise of reasonable care. Therefore, negligent acts or omissions are to be treated as voluntary acts or omissions.

A person who acts or omits to act may or may not possess a mental attitude towards the consequences of his act or omission i.e., he may or may not think about them. In the former case his conduct is either voluntary or rash; in the latter it is heedless. Section 39 of the IPC sets out the three states of mind which constitute a voluntary attitude towards the consequences of given conduct. In rashness, the party guilty of a rash act neither intends evil, nor does he know that evil is likely, nor has he reason to believe that it is likely. On the contrary, he does not think that evil will ensue. He thinks of the probable consequences of his act or omission, but from insufficient advertence, assumes that they will not ensue.2)

Likely: An effect is 'likely' to take place when there is a likelihood of its being caused, and likelihood is distinguishable from mere possibility. A thing is possible when it may happen; likely when the chances are in favour of its happening, and probable when the chances are strongly in its favour. Thus probability is the stronger degree of likelihood. A thing may, therefore, be likely without being probable, though a thing probable must be likely.

Dr. Meeru Bhatia Prasad v. State, 2002 CriLJ 1674
Austin's Jurisprudence, Lecture 20, pp 440-41.

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