sua cuique est tutissimum refugium is a Latin maxim, squarely translated to mean ‘every man’s house is his safest refuge’. In the legal context, the maxim illustrates the fact that the law recognises the sanctity of one’s home. Thus, the law also recognises the right of a person to firstly, defend their home and secondly, use it as a defence against injury and violence.
The maxim was most famously used concerning the Semayne’s Case by the eminent jurist, Sir Edward Coke, wherein the scope regarding the power of a sheriff to break doors and killing another who breaks into his house to steal or murder him was being discussed; he stated that “every man’s house is his castle and fortress, as well as for his defence against injury and violence as for his repose.” Further, in the matter, Lord Ellenborough in Burdett v. Abbott [(1811), 14 East, 1] held that a sheriff to execute process may not break an outer door; neither may a bailiff to distrain for rent, though he may enter through an open window, or over a wall.
In the historic judgment of Navtej Singh Johar v. Union of India Ministry of Law and Justice, (2018) 10 S.C.C 1, Writ petition (Criminal) No. 76 of 2016, the Court while striking down parts of Section 377 of the Indian Penal Code of 1860 used this maxim of Domus sua cuique est tutissimum refugium to state that Section 377 amounts to the unreasonable restriction as it makes intercourse between two consenting adults within their ‘castle’ a criminal offence.
The Indian Supreme Court also applied this principle when it delivered its decision to make the right to privacy a fundamental right in India. It clarified that the idea of private space was no longer spatial and the contemporary ‘castle’ deserved legal protection which included the human community, the media, and others.
The maxim was first used in common law jurisdictions and as stated by Justice Alan Cooper in R v. Stevens [2011 ONCJ 794 (CanLII)] – Common Law has long recognised the sanctity of a person’s home. Its relevance is wide in the application of laws in India.