The curse of the objective reasonable man on criminal law in India

This article is written by Simran Bhinder. Simran is a fourth-year law student at O P JINDAL GLOBAL UNIVERSITY.



There are certain defining features of every legal document and every code of law. One of the major features of the Indian criminal justice system is the test of a Reasonable man within it. This mythical creation of legal theory is supposed to be a sensible, rational man who is objective and devoid of emotions.

This article is not simply a critique of the idea of a reasonable man but aims at bringing out the problems which the criminal law is facing today because of the absence of subjectivity. It is aimed at discussing the consequences of the “absences” of subjectivity, which are a result of the “presence” of the concept of the objective reasonable man in Indian criminal law.



This basic principle on which the entire science of criminology is based has never been recognised by the legal apparatus in India which is completely smitten and obsessed by the idea of objectivity. The law assumes that there is a common ground and a few common features that define every crime and on which every criminal activity takes place. This assumption gives rise to the numerous “objectivity tests” and “objective standards” that are present within the criminal law today.

For example, whenever it has to be decided whether or not the defence of grave and sudden provocation is applicable ( e.g. R vs TRAN ), both the subjective as well as an objective standard are applied and only then is it decided whether or not the act was grave and sudden enough. Something as personal and as individually different and variant as a particular person’s reaction to a certain act is also supposed to be according to the standards set by the mythical reasonable man who is obsessed with objectivity.

In GYARSIBAI vs STATE (AIR 1953 M.B. 61) the woman was held guilty of murdering her children because when subjected to the objective standards of reasonable behaviour the court found that her behaviour was irrational. However, it can be argued that the verdict could have been completely different had the subjective aspects the case been considered. While the objective standard views her as a woman, who after a fight with her sister in law decided to drown herself and her children the specific facts of this case point out that this woman, who was financially completely dependent on her husband, had been thrown out of her house along with her four young children by her sister in law, who had always been in a situation in which she exerted considerable influence on her husband. Thus even though the objective standard views her as a woman who murdered her children in cold blood , the subjective view would see her as a woman who , out of desperation and a valid apprehension of the future was forced to kill her own children.

Although it is important to have a certain set and uniform standards and guidelines which should be considered while deciding on cases , it is equally important to take into consideration the Unique facts, the situations and the conditions under which a crime takes place . The lack of objectivity can prove to be a major hindrance in the path of justice.

A major critique of the decision of the judiciary, to try one of the main perpetrators of the 2013 Delhi gang rape as a juvenile was this inability to subjectively view his crime, and take into consideration the facts of the situation. He had committed the crime only a few weeks before turning a legal adult. Yet he managed to escape the rightful consequences of the horrendous crime which he committed because of the almost mechanical working of the judiciary , which is obsessed with the idea of following the procedure and technicalities to such an extent  , that it often forgets to be just.

Despite all the problems that are stated above The Indian Penal code is still a very strong, relevant and far-sighted document that is, without any doubt, one of the most complex and well written criminal codes in the world. The basic problem with it remains that it was not updated and modified to suit the changing circumstances and needs of the changing times.

Also, it is important to bring out a social and moral consciousness amongst the judiciary in India. They need to be trained in a way in which they can base their judgements on legal rationale’s that are not only consistent with the law but which also uphold the Morden ideas of justice and equality.

The curse of the OBJECTIVE REASONABLE MAN can only be removed once all these issues are addressed and rectified.

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