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An Overview Of Article 20 Of The Indian Constitution


If one were to particularly deliberate on the importance of Article 20 of the Indian Constitution, one would essentially look into the protection of fundamental rights relating to the conviction of offences. In simpler words, the subject matter of Article 20 can be postulated under the following conditions:

  • First and foremost, no individual can be convicted for an offence other than the law that is currently in place, wherein the said person cannot under any means be penalized with an enhanced punishment other than what was prescribed during the time of commission of the mentioned offence. 
  • No individual should be convicted for the same offence more than once, taking into regard the facts and circumstances of the said offence. 
  • Thirdly, no individual should be coerced or be compelled to produce evidence and disclose information that has the likelihood of being used against him/her during court proceedings.

In totality, Article 20 is considered to be one of the most vital provisions of the Indian Constitution, which cannot be set aside, even during times of Emergency.


It would be imperative to take into consideration the first clause of the mentioned provision, which bars the retrospective applicability of criminal laws, in circumstances where a new offence has been committed. Such laws, that brings into light a new offence cannot be applied in retrospection, with the purpose of penalizing an individual for an offence that had been committed in the past, as it would culminate to being violative of Article 21 of the Indian Constitution (depriving the person of the right to life and liberty) and would also be against the very principle of justice, reasonableness, equity, good conscience alongside being perceived as a form of arbitrary legislation.

At this juncture, it would be pertinent to take into cognizance the role of various cases in interpreting the same. The landmark judgement of Kedar Nath v. State of West Bengal witnessed the Hon’ble Supreme Court stating that any act which is declared as a criminal offence or provides penalty with respect to the same by the legislature, will be regarded to be prospective in nature, wherein the same cannot be implemented in a retrospective manner, as has been covered under Article 20(1) of the Indian Constitution.

Likewise, in the case of Mohan Lal v. State of Rajasthan, the Hon’ble Court opined that Article 20(1) of the Indian Constitution only covers convictions and punishments and is not applicable to trials or matters of prosecution. That being stated, trials covered under a different procedure other than what formerly existed during the commission of the said offence doesn’t come under the ambit of the mentioned provision. 

An exception pertaining to the said provision has however been brought into cognizance through the case of Rattan Lal v. State of Punjab, in which the Hon’ble Supreme Court was seen to have permitted the retrospective implementation of Criminal Laws, which was related to the reduction of punishment in the said Act. 


Whilst the literal meaning of the concept identified as jeopardy, is regarded to be a trouble or a peril, but in Criminal Law, the same implies “punishment.” However, with regard to discussing the doctrine of “double jeopardy” the mentioned concept traces its evolution to American Jurisprudence which states that no individuals shall be punished and prosecuted for the same act/ offence more than once. In order to bring forth the applicability of this provision, it is imperative that the accused proves that he has been prosecuted and penalized earlier for the very same act in a quasi-judicial or judicial proceeding. If it comes to notice that the accused had been formerly prosecuted and acquitted under the same offence, the applicability of Article 20(2) of the Indian Constitution will however not apply. 

It would be pertinent to bring into light the case of Venkataraman v. Union of India, wherein the Hon’ble Supreme Court clarified on the notion that the aforementioned provision is only applicable to judicial punishments, wherein it must be ensured that the no person is prosecuted more than once for the same offence by the judicial authorities. Furthermore, there is also the presence of the case of Maqbool Hussain v. State of Bombay, which is a landmark judgement, that observed a situation where the individual accused was caught possessing a particular amount of gold, which was against the aspect of lex loci during that time, post which the said item was revoked by the customs authority. With the passage of time, there was in all eventuality, the confrontation of the question of whether the same amounts to the doctrine of double jeopardy. 

But the Hon’ble Supreme Court held that departmental proceedings are distinct and independent of trial proceedings by a Tribunal or a Judicial Court. The same principle was reiterated in the case of A.A. Mulla v. State of Maharashtra,wherein it was observed that the mentioned provision will not be brought into play, in circumstances, where the facts are seen to be distinct in a punishment or a subsequent offence. 

This aspect has been adequately covered under the ambit of Section 300(1) of the Criminal Procedure Code, 1973 which stipulates that any person who has been prosecuted or convicted by a competent Court for any particular offence will not bring in the liability of being prosecuted again, till the former acquittal or conviction is seen to remain in force. 

The applicability of the mentioned provision does however require certain conditions to be fulfilled, which include the following:

  • It is essential that the accused in question is tried before a Court formerly, wherein the mentioned provision is concerned solely with proceedings and judicial prosecution.
  • As has been elaborated above, it is crucial that the acquittal/conviction is in force and is not set aside by any form of appeal or re-trial proceedings. 
  • It is also mandatory that the Court trying the concerned case is competent and is known to act under a jurisdiction which is competent and should ensure that it doesn’t exercise its power in a manner which is ultra vires in nature.
  • In the subsequent trial, it must be noted that the accused is not tried for the same facts and offence. 
  • Lastly, it is also essential that the previous court proceeding ended on conviction or acquittal and in cases, where it ended post inquiry, such cases would come under the ambit of Section 300(1) of the Criminal Procedure Code, 1973.


This particular provision introspects and prohibits an accused from giving any evidence or information against oneself. This protection is available at all stages and is seen to protect and bar the compulsion of the accused, both physically and mentally. It must however be noted that this protection is only with regard to the protection of personal knowledge. 

In the case of M.P. Sharma v. Satish Chandra, it was observed that irrespective of the concerned individual being an accused or a mere suspect, the protection that has been covered under the ambit of Article 20(3) of the Indian Constitutionwill by all means, be brought into effect. In the mentioned case, it has however been stated that if the said individual voluntarily decides to discloses information, Article 20(3) will however not apply. This provision does not give protection to witnesses under Article 20(3) of the Indian Constitution, wherein the said category of persons get protection under Section 132 of the Indian Evidence Act, 1872.

Furthermore, in the case of State of Bombay v. Kathi Kalu Oghad, this principle was clarified wherein it was stipulated that the said protection is only applicable, taking into regard the facts and circumstances of the concerned case, based upon which, the personal knowledge of the individual (meaning the accused) will be protected. 

The landmark judgement of Nandini Satpathy v. P L Dani, brought into light the prohibitive scope of Article 20(3) of the Indian Constitution, wherein it was postulated that this provision arises at the preliminary stages of investigation, and the protection comes into effect at the stages of enquiry, investigation and trial. Section 161 of the Criminal Procedure Code, 1973 alongside Section 313 and 315 brings into light the stages of protection. More importantly, it was also held that Article 20(3) is considered to be in consonance with Section 161(2) of The Criminal Procedure Code, 1973.


All in all, it can be stated that the sheer applicability of Article 20 has been brought into existence to protect individuals against the very excess of legislature, executive and the judiciary, bringing into light the importance of the doctrine, identified as the separation of powers. Such protections are not just available to Indians, but also foreigners and is thus, considered to be the bedrock of the Indian Constitution, as it ensures basic human rights to the accused and the convicted individuals.    

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