Protection In Respect of Conviction For Offences, Article 20 An overview

Article 20 is one of the essential pillars of fundamental rights guaranteed by the Constitution of India. It mainly deals with the protection of certain rights in case of conviction for offences. When an individual, as well as corporations, are accused of crimes, the provisions of Article 20 safeguard their rights in order to attain the Justice, Conviction, equity and good conscience.
The striking feature of Article 20 is that it can’t be suspended during an emergency period. The Article has set certain limitations on the legislative powers of the Union and State legislatures. 
1. No person shall be convicted of any offence except for violation of a law in force at the time of the commission of the Act charged as an offence, nor be subjected to a penalty greater than that which might have been inflicted under the law in force at the time of the commission of the offence. 
2. No person shall be prosecuted and punished for the same offence more than once. 
3. No person accused of any offence shall be compelled to be a witness against himself”.


It imposes limitations on the law-making power of the legislature and even prohibits them to make retrospective criminal law. There are no such restrictions on making any retrospective civil law. The first part of Clause (1) deals with the protection against the conviction of any offence except for violation of ‘law in force’ at the time of commission. The second part of Clause (1)  protects a person from a penalty greater than that which he is subjected at the time of the commission of an offence.
American: Prohibition applies not only in conviction and sentence but also in respect of trial. Therefore, the guarantee which has been provided in the American Constitution is much wider than under the Indian Constitution.
Indian: This clause is available only against conviction or sentence for a criminal offence under Ex post facto law and not against trial and prosecution.
Mohan Lal v State of Rajasthan[1] A chowkidar theft from malkhana and convicted in the NDPS  Act on 13th November but NDPS Act was enacted on 14th November. So Supreme Court held him guilty under Section 18 of NDPS Act because he was in possession of the banned substance but not for stealing because stealing was done prior to the coming of the Act but he was in possession of such banned substance even after the coming of the said Act.

Beneficial provisions for accused 

Ratan Lal v State of Punjab[2] Magistrate sentenced accused for rigorous imprisonment who was 16 years for outraging the modesty of the girl. Later, Probation of Offender’s Act, came into force which states that a person below 21 years cannot be sentenced to imprisonment. So, an Ex-Post facto law which is beneficial to accused is not prohibited by Clause 1.
Therefore, the retrospective or retroactive law, which takes away basic rights of an individual away by prescribing a greater punishment or making any legal act prohibited by law after the enactment of any new law, all this is prohibited under Article 20 (1) and it, therefore, safeguards the interests and the rights of the person prosecuted by keeping in mind justice, good conscience and equity.


Nemo debet vis vexari 
The maxim means that “no should be punished twice to peril for the same offence”. Double jeopardy is based on the above-mentioned maxim.
In India, protection under this Clause is given when accused has not only prosecuted but also punished for same offence whereas, in American Constitution, such protection can be sought when in the first trial whether a person is convicted or acquitted.
The word ‘prosecution’ is used with the word punishment embodies the essentials:-
  • The person must be accused of an offence.
  • The proceeding or prosecution must have taken place before court or judicial tribunal.
  • The person must have punished and prosecuted.
  • The offence must be the same for which he was prosecuted and punished in the previous proceedings.
Clause (2) of Article 20 does not apply in a mere continuation of the previous proceedings and even the second trial was not barred if the ingredients of two trial were different.
Maqbool Husain v. State of Bombay[3], Appellant brought gold from outside and his gold confiscated in Sea Customs Act. Later, he was charged for conviction of an offence in the FERA Act. He pleads that the second proceeding was in violation of Article 20(2). Court held that Sea Customs Act was not the court or judicial tribunal. It also states that proceedings before departmental and administrative authorities cannot be called a proceeding of judicial nature.


Nemo tenetur prodere accussare seipsum
The above maxim connotes that “no man is bound to accuse himself”. Self-Incrimination means conveying information based upon personal knowledge of the person involving himself to be the prime part taken in the offence.
This Clause embodies the following essentials:
  • Protection under this clause is given who is ‘accused of an offence’.
  • Protection against ‘compulsion to be a witness’.
  • It protects a person to provide evidence ‘ against himself’.
M.P Sharma v. Satish Chandra[4] It held that witness includes both Oral and documentary evidence and also held that there is no restriction under this clause where a search for document or seizures is being done by the authorities which means this is not hit by Clause 3. However, the information and evidence produced voluntarily by the accused is permissible.
This could be admissible in court under Section 27 of Evidence Act and doesn’t violate Article 20 (3), but the burden is upon the prosecution to find out whether the information provided is made voluntary or under compulsion. The reason behind this is that the evidence must be in the form of communication and for the same reasons, the medical examination done during the course of a trial is permissible. This is the only reason why the Narco Analysis test is frequently used by authorities to gather information and evidence and does not violate the provision under Article 20 (3).
Another provision which guarantees prohibition against self-incrimination is Section 161 (2) of CrPC, which says that while accused being examined by the authorities, he is bound to answer the questions truly except those which have a propensity to be used against the person himself later during trial.


If we put some effort to analyse the clauses of the Article 20 of the Indian Constitution, we would come across this interesting inference and conclusion that these clauses i.e. Article 20(1), Article 20(2) and Article 20(3) reflect the protection of convicted persons from an excess of Legislation, Judiciary and Executive actions respectively with the object to attain justice, equity and good conscience.
Also, these protections are available to both i.e. citizens as well as non-citizens and thus forms the bedrock of the Indian Constitution and guarantees basic human rights to the convicted and accused people.
1.AIR 2015 SC 2098
3.AIR 1953 SC 325
4.AIR 1954 SC 300
5.Dr J.N. Pandey, Constitutional law of India, Central law agency. Ed56th, P270
Syed Anas Husain | Aligarh Muslim University

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