Is suicide attempt a crime?


Suicide is the intentional, voluntary, non-accidental act of a sane man that results in his own death. In Pakistan, article 325 of the Pakistani Penal Code of 1860 provides that “anyone who attempts to commit suicide and commits an act with a view to committing such an offense shall be punished with a simple prison sentence of up to one year, or a fine, or both ”. The law to punish attempted suicide is as old as the penal code itself.

Because in the subcontinent the penal code is designed and enforced by the English, which is why it would be wise to quote here Blackstone’s common law view on suicide: from God, the author of this one; and, as suicide is guilty of a double offense; a spiritual, by invading the prerogative of the Almighty and rushing into his unjustified immediate presence; the other temporal, against the king, who has an interest in the preservation of all his subjects; the law therefore classified it among the highest crimes, which makes it a particular kind of crime, a crime committed by oneself ”.

Read more: Hindus in Sindh kill themselves for lack of food

Increased suicide rate

Currently, according to the World Health Organization, more than 700,000 people die by suicide each year, and for every suicide, there are many more people who attempt suicide. Suicide is the fourth leading cause of death among 15-19 year olds. The question is: is the criminalization of attempted suicide productive in its prevention? The research answers are no. On the contrary, it adds more mental problems, agony and suffering by labeling the victim as accused in society. Surprisingly, this is the only offense where the accused is also the victim.

The main purpose of legislation is always to lessen the harm caused by the act or omission which is designated as an offense; thus, if the offense of attempted suicide does not reduce attempts and if the offense does not prove useful for the prevention of this crime, then is it not essential to review the law and to legislate it in accordance with the economic and phycological scenario of our society.

First, the vires of this legislation were discussed by the Bombay High Court in the Maruti Shri Pati Dubal v Maharashtra State case, 1987 and ruled Article 309 of the Indian Penal Code (which is similar to the Article 325 of the Pakistani Penal Code) unconstitutional on the grounds that: “If the purpose of the prescribed sentence is to prevent potential suicides by deterrence, it is difficult to understand how this can be achieved by punishing those who have made the attempts. Those who attempt suicide because of a mental disorder need psychiatric treatment, not confinement in the person’s cells where their condition is doomed to worsen and aggravate the mental disorder.

Read more: 3 Pakistani students commit suicide in Australia

On the other hand, those who attempt suicide due to acute physical illnesses, incurable illnesses, torture or a decrepit physical condition induced by old age or disability need retirement homes and not prisons to prevent them. to start over. No deterrence will further detain those who want to die for a social or political cause or to leave the world either for lack of interest in life or for self-deliverance. Thus, in any case, the punishment is useless, and in some cases, it will necessarily prove to be self-destructive and counter-productive.

How do laws tackle suicide?

Then the Indian Supreme Court in P. Rathinam vs Union of India, 1994 ruled the same thing unconstitutional by observing in conclusion “that article 309 of the Penal Code deserves to be deleted from the code to humanize our penal laws. This is a cruel and irrational disposition, and it can result in re-punishing (doubly) a person who has suffered agony and would suffer ignominy due to his inability to commit suicide ”. The court also referred to two leading countries in its judgment: the United Kingdom and the United States of America.

“In English common law, suicide was considered a crime, so that a person who had lost his life after committing suicide was not allowed to be buried in a Christian manner… and the property of the person concerned was confiscated. for the benefit of the Crown… but times have changed, notions have changed and today even attempted suicide is not a criminal offense, as would appear in the Suicide Act, 1961 ”.

Read more: Three Indian soldiers kill themselves in Kashmir

According to the above-mentioned judgment, “in the United States in the early 1970s, a relatively small number of states (9) listed suicide as a felony, although no penalties were imposed”. And then the court referred to “the last American position as mentioned at p. 348 of Columbia Law Review, 1986: Suicide is not a crime under the laws of any state in the United States. Neither state, by law, makes attempted suicide a crime… ”

Building on the example of recent cases

Although P. Rathinam’s case was not approved by the entire bench of the Indian Supreme Court i.e. Smt. Gian Kaur against the State of Punjab in 1996; despite the reasons and reasoning given by the tribunal in the P. Rathinam case deserves a great legal appreciation.

Anyway, in India, under section 115 of the Mental Health Care Act 2017, a presumption of severe stress in the event of attempted suicide was granted to the accused. It provides that “Notwithstanding any provision of Article 309 of the Indian Penal Code, any person who attempts to commit suicide is presumed, unless proven otherwise, to have suffered severe stress and shall not be tried and punished under said code”.

However, in Pakistan, although section 49 of the Mental Health Ordinance 2001 states that “a person who attempts to commit suicide should be assessed by a registered psychiatrist and if he suffers from a mental disorder, he is shall be treated appropriately in accordance with the provisions of this Ordinance “. . However, this does not diminish the consequences of the arrest of the victim-accused under section 325 of the PPC.

Read more: Double suicide bombing in Baghdad kills at least 13, reveals preliminary toll

Therefore, it is high time that the necessary changes to the criminal and procedural laws regarding attempted suicide were made as it is a more medical, psychiatric and sociological problem than crime. It is also essential because, in criminal law, offenses must always be justified. And what justification could there be for punishing a person suffering from mental and phycological illness or having socio-economic problems, which are beyond his control.

The writer is assistant to the district attorney, won first place in competitions and writes on various topics. He can be contacted at [email protected]. His articles are available at He holds an LL.M. from the University of Punjab and teaches law. The opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the editorial policy of Global Village Space.


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