In our daily lives, we encounter a variety of news items when someone is accused of doing some offence (s).

Whether those who are charged or who must appear before courts for a trial have any form of fundamental rights or protection is the primary issue that every legal enthusiast has when they encounter such situations. When drafting the constitution, our great forefathers must have grappled with the same issue and question. Article 20 was thus included to Part III of the Indian Constitution to address the issue.

Article 20 of the Indian Constitution.

Three clauses make up Article 20  and these three clauses address the problem of needless and unwelcome activities by the legislature, executive branch, and implementing bodies.

The essential elements of these clauses are:

Criminal laws cannot be enforced retroactively if they enhance the punishment for an offence that was already a crime. This is because doing so would be illogical, arbitrary, unjust, and immoral.

First, it states that only crimes committed in violation of the law in effect at the time of the offence should result in convictions. It also states that no offence may result in a punishment larger than that in effect at the time the offence was committed.

Second, a person could never receive more than one conviction and punishment for the same offence with the same set of circumstances.

Third, no one should be forced to give evidence or information that could be used against him in a court proceeding by an inept judge or jury.

One of the Indian Constitution’s Articles that cannot be waived even in an emergency is Article 20. , it constitutes a pillar of the Indian Constitution.

If a new offence has been created, Article 20(1)’s first clause forbids the retroactive application of penal legislation. Such rules that establish new offences cannot be applied retroactively to punish someone for a past act. Therefore, it is prohibited to apply criminal laws that create new offences retroactively because doing so would violate Article 21 and go against the principles of reason, justice, equity, and good conscience. It would also be arbitrary law.

Let’s now examine three legal principles from Indian criminal law that correspond to the three provisions of Article 20: ex post facto law, the doctrine of double jeopardy, and the prohibition against self-incrimination.

Provision against Ex post facto law: Clause (1) of Article 20

The relevant clause, Article 20 (1), states that an accused person may not be tried under laws that were in effect when the offence was committed by the accused and may not be subjected to consequences that are harsher than those that were in effect at the time the offence was committed.

This clause eliminates the possibility of retroactive application of criminal law. By forbidding the retroactive application of a law with a criminal element, this clause, to put it simply, restricts the legislative power of the legislation.

In the case of Kedar Nath v. State of West Bengal, which was decided in 1953, a landmark decision that established this theory was made. In this case, the Hon’ble Supreme Court of India observed that anytime a legislative body declares an action to be a criminal offence and/or imposes a penalty for it, it is always prospective in character and cannot be put into effect retroactively to uphold what is being claimed under Article 20 (1).

In another significant ruling, Maru Ram Etc. vs. Union of India & Anr (1980 AIR 2147), the Court noted that Article 20 (1) also includes the prohibition against retroactively imposing punishments that are harsher than those that were in place at the time the offence was committed.

The restriction under this clause does, however, have an exemption. The Hon’ble Supreme Court permitted such retroactive application of criminal laws in Rattan Lal v. State of Punjab, where the issue at hand is a decrease in the severity of the punishment for the relevant offence.

Article 20(2)- Double Jeopardy

While jeopardy’s original definition is hazard or problem, in the context of criminal law, it refers to punishment.

No one may face more than one prosecution and punishment for the same offence. It will be a superfluous and disproportionate restriction on the accused’s life and personal freedom, as well as being irrational, unjust, and contrary to morality.

The accused must demonstrate that he has previously faced charges for and received a sentence for the identical offence in a legal or quasi-legal proceeding. The ban of Article 20(2) of the Indian Constitution is not applicable if the offender was previously tried and found not guilty.

It is crucial that he was previously accused of a crime, tried, and sentenced in a legal or quasi-legal process.

Therefore, Article 20(2) will not apply if the preceding proceeding was just a departmental proceeding and not a judicial or quasi-judicial one.

Article 20(3) – Law against Self Incrimination

In accordance with Article 20(3), the accused cannot be made to testify against himself. At all times, including during the trial stage, the protection is accessible against both physical and mental compulsion. It is important to remember that protection only applies to personal knowledge. Things that can be physically manifested, such as my watch, my thumbprint, or a blood sample, are not included.

M P Sharma v Satish Chandra (1954) (SC)

  1. It is not required that the person receiving protection was an accused at the time he was coerced; it is possible that, at the time, he was simply a suspect who was later made an accused. In either event, he will receive protection.
  2. The safeguard is against being forced to testify against oneself, thus if the accused provides the information voluntarily, Art. 20(3) will not be applicable.
  3. Protection only applies to statements that can be used against the offender in court.
  4. Witnesses are protected by section 132 of the Indian Evidence Act, not by Article 20(3), which does not apply to them.

State of Bombay v Kathi Kalu Oghad (1961) (SC)

  1. The protection of Article 20(3) will not be applicable if certain facts are clear and obvious.
  2. Only information or facts that are based on the accused’s direct knowledge are covered by the protection.
  3. Protection extends to all forms of mental compulsion, not just those that are physically imposed.

Nandini Satpathy v P L Dani (1978) (SC)

The investigation stage is where the prohibitive scope of Article 20(3) develops, and the protection is applicable during the investigation, enquiry, and trial stages. Therefore, the protection is offered at both the section 161 CrPC and section 313 and 315 CrPC stages.

Only the accused in a case is granted protection under Article 20(3); witnesses are not.

It was determined that Article 20(3) and Section 161(2) of the CrPC are compatible.


If we bothered to analyse every clause in Article 20 of the Indian Constitution, we would draw the intriguing conclusion that Articles 20(1), 20(2), and 20(3) safeguard guilty individuals from excessive legislative, judicial, and executive measures, respectively. Additionally, these safeguards are available to everyone, including Indians and foreigners, and they serve as the cornerstone of the Indian Constitution by guaranteeing fundamental human rights to those who have been found guilty or suspected of a crime.




The Constitution Of India

Constitutional Law Of India-  Dr. J.N. Pandey

Introduction to the Constitution Of India- Durga Das Basu

Constitution Of India- V.N. Shukla

Internet Sources

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