Article 20: Protection Against Conviction of Offenses

Every day in our life, we come across various news items in which someone has been charged with a crime (s). The main question that any legal enthusiast has when they come into these is if the accused or those who will be brought before courts for trial have any fundamental rights or protection. To deal with the same Article 20 was introduced in the Indian Constitution. The article comprises 3 clauses. First, the essence of these regulations is that no one shall be convicted for any offense other than those that violate the law in effect at the time of the offense and that no punishment should be imposed that is greater than that which existed at the time the conduct was committed. Second, no one could be found guilty and punished for the same crime more than once. Third, no one should be forced to furnish evidence or information that could be used against them in an inept judicial tribunal’s trial. Article 20 of the Indian Constitution is one of the few that cannot be ignored, even in an emergency. As a result, it is regarded as a cornerstone of the Indian Constitution. 

Article 20(1)

The first portion of Article 20(1) bans criminal laws from being applied retroactively if a new offense has been formed. Such laws that create new offenses cannot be applied retroactively to punish someone for something they did previously. ​​Thus, criminal laws that create new offenses cannot be applied retroactively, as this would be a violation of Article 21 as well as a violation of the principles of reasonableness, justice, equity, and good conscience, as well as arbitrary legislation. If a criminal statute doubles the penalty for an already-existing crime, it cannot be enforced retrospectively since it would be illogical, arbitrary, unjust, and immoral. If the offense is abolished or the punishment is lowered by a subsequent law, and the law is applied retrospectively, the accused who committed the offense earlier will profit from the new law. If, on the other hand, such advantageous legislation was not applied retroactively, the accused can undoubtedly claim the benefit of the new law, and the court, after condemning him, can grant him a new trial. This is called the doctrine of beneficial construction. 

Article 20(2)

Jeopardy signifies hazard or trouble in the literal sense, but in criminal law, it means punishment. No one may be prosecuted and punished more than once for the same offense. It will be a superfluous and disproportionate restriction on the accused’s life and personal liberty, as well as irrational, unjust, arbitrary, and contrary to good conscience. The accused must show that he was previously prosecuted and punished in a judicial or quasi-judicial action for the same offense. The ban of Article 20(2) of the Indian Constitution does not apply if the accused has already been prosecuted and acquitted. It is critical that he was previously convicted and sentenced in a court or quasi-judicial action. Article 20(2) will not apply if the previous proceeding was not judicial or quasi-judicial, but rather a departmental proceeding.

Article 20(3)

According to Article 20(3), the accused cannot be forced to testify against himself. The protection is provided at all levels, including the trial stage, and it is available against both mental and physical compulsion. It should be mentioned that the protection is only for personal knowledge. It does not include physical manifestations such as a thumb impression, my watch, or a blood sample, for example. In-State of Bombay v Kathi Kalu Oghad it was held that if some facts are visible then the protection as provided under Article 20(3) will not apply. The protection is not only with regard to the compulsion but also with respect to any kind of mental coercion; it only applies to facts or information based on the accused’s personal knowledge. In another case of Nandini Satpathy v P L Dani , it was held that the prohibitive breadth of Article 20(3) emerges at the very beginning of an investigation, and protection is accessible at all phases of the investigation, inquiry, and trial. As a result, protection is accessible at both the section 161 and section 313 and 315 stages of the CrPC. Article 20(3) exclusively protects the accused in a case, not the witnesses.

If we examine all of the articles in Article 20 of the Indian Constitution, we may deduce that these clauses, namely Article 20(1), Article 20(2), and Article 20(3), reflect the protection of condemned persons from excessive legislative, judicial, and executive measures, respectively. These protections are also available to all persons, including Indians and foreigners, and thus form the cornerstone of the Indian Constitution, guaranteeing basic human rights to those who have been convicted or suspected of crimes. Its availability even when an emergency is declared under Article 352 of the Indian Constitution is what distinguishes it and makes it so crucial for the execution of democratic duties.

This article is authored by Vanshika Samir,  a first-year student at the Rajiv Gandhi National University of Law, Punjab.

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