General Exceptions Under IPC: Infancy and Mistake

General Exceptions Under IPC: Infancy and Mistake

The general rule is that the person is presumed to know the nature and consequence of the act, thus whoever commits crime gets punished for the same. There are certain​​ following​​ exceptional situations where a person commits a crime yet he does not get punishment:

  • Excusable exception- where the person lacks mens rea required to constitute an offence punishable under law

  • Justifiable exception- where the circumstances under which the act is committed provides legal justification

Indian Penal Code​​ (IPC)​​ provides for the following general exceptions:


An accused is not held responsible for the crime due to his legal incapacity to commit an offence owing to the age of the perpetrator.​​ 

Children below the age of 7 years are given absolute immunity under IPC i.e. nothing is an offence which is committed by a child below 7 years of age. Such children are known as​​ doli incapax, they are considered in law to be incapable of forming criminal intention necessary for crime. Hence, such children are completely protected from prosecution and punishment. These children can never be arrested or tried at the court of law irrespective of the crime they might have committed even with the requisite mens rea.​​ 

Children between the ages of 7 to 12 years are given conditional immunity under IPC i.e. nothing is an offence which is done by a child above 7 years and below 12 years of age who has not attained sufficient maturity of understanding the nature and consequences of the act committed. In this case the test is, whether the chid possess requisite mental understanding to judge the nature of his conduct. If the child possesses understanding to comprehend the nature and consequences of his act then he shall be held liable for the same otherwise he shall be given defence under Section 83 of IPC.

There is no provision under IPC to extend immunity to the children above 12 years of age but with the development of child rights it was realized that​​ children up to 18 years are of tender mind and hence they also deserve immunity. Therefore Juvenile Justice Act was created which guaranteed legal protection to children up to 18 years of age and it focused on reformation of children rather than punishment. Hence such children who were held liable by the special courts for an offence were sent to reformation centres instead of jails. However in the recent amendment of the Act it has been stated that if a child between 16-18 years is guilty of a heinous crime which is punishable with 7 years or more shall be treated as adults if the Juvenile Justice Boards decides so and may be tried as a normal offender.


Principle:​​ Nothing is an offence which is done by a person who is, or who by reason of a mistake of fact and not by reason of a mistake of law in good faith believes himself to be, bound by law to do it.

Mistake is a slip made, not by design but by mischance. Mistake can be admitted as defence provided:​​ 

  • The state of things believed to exist would, if true would have justified the act done

  • Mistake must be reasonable

  • Mistake relates to the fact and not law

Ignorantia facti doth excuse​​ i.e.​​ ignorance of fact is excusable. Mistake of fact is the result of lack of mental alertness or forgetfulness which is induced by ignorance, misapprehension or misunderstanding of the truth and resulting in some act or omission.​​ 

Mistake of fact is allowed as defence​​ when the act done was an order from the superior i.e. the person was bound by law to do it. If the person executes an obvious illegal command of the superior then this shall not be a valid defence as the servant should exercise his own judgement.

When an act is done by any person​​ who​​ is justified by law or under a mistake of fact the person in good faith believes that the act is justified by law then he shall get such defence under the criminal law.

Mistake of fact is no defence if the fact in itself is illegal e.g. A cannot take a defence under mistake of fact that he was intending to kill X and he mistook Y as X and shot him.

Ignorantia juris non excusat​​ i.e. ignorance of law is no defence. Everybody is bound to know the law of land and ignorance of law is no excuse. This is based on the assumption that if a person exercises due care and diligence he would know the law. ‘Mistake of law’ means mistake as to existence of any law on a particular subject as well as mistake as to what law is.​​ ​​ If this is allowed as a defence, then every person would plead ignorance of law and escape punishment leading to total failure of justice.

If there is a mixed question of law and fact then it shall be treated as a question of fact if the accused was misled into an error of fact on account of an error of law. Also one cannot plead ignorance of fact when responsible inquiry would have elicited the true facts.​​ 

An act done​​ by virtue of a judgment or order of a Court​​ while in force​​ even if Court had no jurisdiction, but person in good faith​​ believes Court had jurisdiction​​ then such person shall be allowed defence under the law. Also if a judge does an act in the exercise of power given by law which in good faith he believes that he is capable under law to do it then he shall also get defence.​​ 

In all the above cases of mistake of fact defence under criminal law is given because​​ the act lacks mens rea or an intention to commit an offence or to do something wrong but they are committed under good faith. Good faith requires not logical infallibility but due care and attention.

Thus an act done under mistake of law is no defence but if done under mistake of fact by exercising good faith then it shall be a defence.

Read our previous post on offences against property under ipc here.

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