Duhaime's Law Dictionary

Sudden Fight Definition:

A spontaneous altercation which occurs in the heat of passion.

Related Terms: Mutual Combat, Sudden Heat

In his 1996 article on sudden fights, National University of Singapore law professor Seng wrote:

"The word sudden connotes a fight that is not prearranged. This would necessarily mean that there should not be a lapse between the quarrel and the fight. The intervention of such a period would mean that reason would of (sic) overcome passion and the fight is not sudden....

"The Indian courts have defined (fight) to mean a bilateral transaction in which blows are exchanged. It is not necessary for weapons to be used and it may still be a fight if only one party succeeds in landing a blow. What is important is that blows must be exchanged even if they do not find their target."1

The condition of a sudden fight, if taken in by the judge or jury, reduces a charge of murder to that of manslaughter, much as the similar but distinct defence of sudden heat does in the United States.

 The Indian Penal Code defines sudden fight as a condition that precludes a conviction of murder as follows:

"Culpable homicide is not murder if it is committed without premeditation in a sudden fight in the heat of passion upon a sudden quarrel and without the offender having taken undue advantage or acted in a cruel or unusual manner."

In his 2010 article on sudden fight, University of Adelaide Law School professor Leader-Elliott opined that, historically, there was no distinction between the defence of sudden fight in Indian criminal law, and the mutual combat defence known to the common law, the latter being defined by Russell on Crimes (Third Edition) as follows:

"Where upon words of reproach, or other sudden provocation, the parties come to blows, and a combat ensues, no undue advantage being sought or taken on either side ... if death happen under such circumstances, the offence of the party killing will amount only to manslaughter.... If, therefore, upon a sudden quarrel, the parties fight upon the spot, or if they fetch their weapons and go into a field and fight, and one of them be killed, it will be but manslaughter, because it may be presumed that the blood never cooled."

But as he also poionts out:

"The Indian Penal Code requirement that the offender not act in a cruel or unusual manner seems to have been something more than was required by common law mutual combat."


  • Greaves, Charles S., ed., Russell on Crimes and Misdemeanours, 3rd Ed. (1826)
  • Indian Penal Code, §300
  • Leader-Elliott, Ian, Sudden Fight, Consent and the Principle of Comparative Responsibility in the Indian Penal Code, 2010 Sing. J.L.S. 282
  • Seng, Lee Kiat, Sudden Fight: Life after Seow Khoon Kwee, 1996 Sing. J. L. S. 442 [NOTE 1]

Categories & Topics:

Always looking up definitions? Save time with our search provider (modern browsers only)

If you find an error or omission in Duhaime's Law Dictionary, or if you have suggestion for a legal term, we'd love to hear from you!