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Meaning, theories of Attempt (IPC)

Updated: May 12

Meaning, theories of Attempt (IPC)
Meaning, theories of Attempt (IPC)


Meaning of 'Attempt’

The term 'attempt' refers to the endeavour to carry out an action, wherein the intended result is not achieved due to external circumstances of one's own volition.

An attempt involves intentional preparatory actions that fail to accomplish the intended outcome because of intervening factors beyond one's control.

While the legal code doesn't explicitly define 'attempt,' it's interpreted in its ordinary sense, distinct from mere intention or preparation.

The determination of what constitutes an attempt involves a blend of legal principles and factual analysis, varying with each case's circumstances and the nature of the offence.

An attempt entails an act done with the intent to commit a crime, forming part of a series of actions that would constitute its commission if uninterrupted.

However, pinpointing the exact starting point of such a series is subjective and context-dependent.

To be guilty of attempting a specific offence, one must have the intention to commit it, undertake preparatory steps, and perform an act towards its commission.

The criminality of an attempt hinges on the individual's intention, substantiated by their actions towards achieving the intended goal.

An attempt isn't inherently criminal but becomes so when it progresses to a point where an action is taken towards committing an offence.

It begins once preparations are complete, and the perpetrator initiates an action with the intent to commit the offence, marking a step towards its commission.


Some key points regarding attempts include:

  • The offence under Sec. 511 doesn't require the transaction to culminate in a crime if left uninterrupted. The illustrations in Sec. 511 indicate that the culprit has done everything necessary for the offence, even if they don't succeed.

  • An act done with intent and preparation, which is impossible to execute as planned, isn't an attempt. For instance, someone practising witchcraft to harm another can't be convicted of an attempt if their actions are ineffective.

  • Attempting to commit a crime also applies if the perpetrator voluntarily stops before completing the attempt.

  • The phrase "does any act towards the commission of the offence" in Sec. 511 is crucial. It doesn't encompass all acts with intent but focuses on those immediately and directly advancing the commission of the crime, allowing the perpetrator to carry out their intention. For example, attempting to set fire to a stack by lighting a match but abandoning the attempt upon realising they're being observed constitutes a sufficient overt act for an attempted charge.

An act "towards the commission of the offence" doesn't have to be the last act leading to the crime, but it must be close to the intended result. The act should occur during the commission of the offence.

The phrase "any act" in Sec. 511 implies that an attempt can consist of a series of acts, and any of these acts conducive to the offence's commission is punishable. This excludes the notion that only the final act before actual commission is punishable.

Why Attempt made Punishable? 

Attempts are made punishable because even though they fail, they still create alarm, which itself is an injury. Therefore, the moral guilt of the offender is considered the same as if the attempt had been successful.

Moral guilt, coupled with injury, justifies punishment. Since the injury in attempts is not as severe as in actual crimes, the punishment is typically half that of the actual crime.

Leading Case Laws

STATE OF MAHARASHTRA v MOHD. YAKUB (AIR 1980 SC 1111): In the case of State of Maharashtra v Mohd. Yakub (AIR 1980 SC 1111), the Supreme Court explored the concept of "attempt" concerning the commission of an offence. The case involved the interception of vehicles suspected of smuggling silver out of the country. The accused had made preparations to transport the silver to a sea vessel, intending to export it illegally.

The court deliberated whether the accused's actions constituted mere preparation or an attempt under Sec. 511.

Sarkaria J. emphasised that defining "attempt" precisely is challenging and depends on the circumstances of each case. He rejected a narrow interpretation that requires the last act before the crime's completion, advocating for a broader view that considers any deliberate act reasonably close to the offence's completion.

Chinnappa Reddy J. echoed this sentiment, stating that proximity to the intended result, rather than the timing or nature of the act itself, determines an attempt.

In the case, the accused's actions, such as driving to a secluded creek at night, indicated an intent to export the silver unlawfully, despite a potential defence claiming it was for inter-coastal trade.

Ultimately, the court found the accused guilty under Sec. 511, as they had made all preparations and only needed to load the silver onto a sea-craft for export, thwarted only by the intervention of custom officers.

Similarly, in Malkiat Singh v State of Punjab (AIR 1970 SC 713), a truck intercepted with banned paddy was not deemed an attempt due to the possibility of the accused changing their mind.

In the State of M.P. v Narayan Singh (AIR 1989 SC 1789), intercepted lorries carrying fertilisers without a licence were considered attempts as they went beyond mere preparation and indicated an unlawful purpose.

In the case of Asghar Ali Pradhania v Emperor (AIR 1933 CAL 893), the accused attempted to cause a miscarriage to a woman by suggesting she take drugs.

He provided her with a bottle of liquid and a packet of powder, but the woman, finding them harmful, refused to ingest them. The court analysed whether his actions constituted an attempt under Sec. 511.

The court noted that every crime involves four stages: intention, preparation, attempt, and commission. Mere intention or preparation is insufficient for an attempt; there must be an "act towards the commission of the offence."

In this case, the harmless nature of the substances meant they couldn't cause a miscarriage, thus failing the impossibility test.

The judgment emphasised that an attempt requires a genuine act towards the intended offence, not merely preparation.

For example, if someone intending to harm another administers a harmless substance, it doesn't constitute an attempt as the act lacks potential harm. Similarly, if a person's action is thwarted by external factors beyond their control, it doesn't qualify as an attempt.


The judgment has drawn criticism for not applying the impossibility test, which focuses on punishing the guilty intent regardless of the act's outcome. Under Sec. 511, an attempt is possible even if the offence attempted is impossible.

Thus, intention and preparation preceding an action are pivotal, and once preparation is crossed, it constitutes an attempt.

Cases like Munah Bind Ali v Public Prosecutor (1958) and Sagayam v State of Karnataka (AIR 2000 SC 2161) illustrate this principle, where despite the impossibility of the offence, the accused were found guilty of attempt based on their intentions and actions.

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