Legal Maxim

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Literal meaning

Mind to Harm




In criminal jurisprudence, the maxim animus nocendi is indicative of a state of mind of the criminal offender. It denotes that the offender has the actual and exact knowledge of the criminal act that is being committed along with its consequences. A comparison with mens rea reveals that it relates to the person being aware of their conduct; whereas animus nocendi aids in the detection of the innocence or criminal intent of the person. This serves as an important element in the commission of a crime. The constituent elements of this are:

  1. knowledge of law; it is presumed that the offender is aware that his acts are in violation of the existing laws.
  2. knowledge of the consequences of the act.
  3. intention to violate the law by the act and its consequences.


This state of mind is said to be absent in the mentally disabled or persons with mental illness. Minors are in most jurisdictions considered to be incapable of knowingly committing criminal acts. Therefore, the possibility of them being punished is comparatively lesser.


In Ryland vs. Fletcher, the Court held that the element of animus nocendi is not required. Instead, the principle of strict liability was laid down, stating that irrespective of whether the intention was present or not, the person will be liable for keeping a hazardous substance in their premises and its escape causes damage.

In M.C.Mehta vs Union of India (Oleum Gas Tragedy case), the Court had taken the intention into consideration and imposed an absolute liability for the severe damage caused to the life and health of neighboring residents.

This maxim has been written and submitted by Ms. Ayushi Goyal during her course of internship at B&B Associates LLP. Ms. Ayushi is a 4th-year law student at Christ University, Bangalore.

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