Article 20 (1), (2), (3): Protection Against Conviction of Offenses

8 Oct 2022  Read 24471 Views

Have you ever wondered if a law passed in 1947 states a particular punishment that was later amended in 1979, which reduced the punishment, then which punishment will the convict get?

If an offense is covered under two acts, then according to which act will the trial continue?

If a person is accused of an offense and forced to witness against himself… is it legal?

The answer to all these questions lies in Article 20 of the Indian Constitution. So, what is article 20? Is Article 20 only for criminal cases? Is Article 20 a fundamental right? 

This blog is all about Article 20 of the Constitution. It contains the three concepts of Article 20, i.e., ex-post-facto law, double jeopardy, and the right against self-incrimination.

Article 20: Protection against the conviction of offenses 

Article 20 of the Constitution of India is a fundamental right which safeguards the rights of an accused/convict. It lays down three concepts:

  1. Article 20(1): Ex-post-facto law
  2. Article 20(2): Double Jeopardy
  3. Article 20(3): Right against self-incrimination 

Article 20(1): Ex-post-facto law 

Every law has two natures

  • Prospective and
  • Retrospective

A law is prospective in nature if legislation is made in the purview of future acts. A retrospective law governs the past acts of the convicts. It grants a prior transaction different legal consequences than those that applied to it at the time it occurred or transpired. 

Ex Post Facto laws are passed after a crime has been committed, making what was previously legal now criminal. Speaking, it's a law that makes such previously legal behaviour illegal. For instance, suppose "A" stole on November 17th, which was not illegal on that specific day. The legislature passed a measure making theft an offense on November 20th. Ex Post Facto laws held A accountable for whatever punishment the legislature had established; therefore, A was required to take the same punishment under the new laws even though he was unaware of the consequences of his actions at the time he committed them.

Article 20(1) provides: No person shall be convicted of any offense except for violation of a law in force at the time of the commission of the act charged as an offense, 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 offense.

  • There are two aspects in Article 20 (1). 
  • According to the first aspect, no one may be found guilty of a crime unless they committed an illegal or forbidden act when the relevant law was passed. Any law that is in effect when the act is performed must be implemented, and violators must be punished and brought to justice for their actions. This justifies using the phrase "law in force" in Article 20 (1). 
  • A law passed after an act has been committed indicates that an act that was lawful before the legislation's enactment may now be considered unlawful. However, Article 20 (1) will protect the act's interests and prevent the perpetrator from being held accountable for the law's violations. 
    • Any individual is shielded from a punishment more than that which was imposed for their act at the time they committed it under the second clause of Article 20 (1). 

    • Due to an ex post facto law, no one shall be exposed to a harsher penalty than what he would have already faced for the previous act at that specific time. 

    • Article 20 (1) only prohibits the convictions or sentences and not the trial.

Kedar Nath v. West Bengal State

The Apex Court, in this decision, stated that it is always preferable to conduct things with a prospective consequence whenever any action is made, a criminal offence or the penalty or punishment for any crime is raised. According to Article 20, any such law cannot be applied retrospectively. However, this paragraph does not prevent the trial itself; it merely forbids the sentencing and convicting processes.

State of Rajasthan v. Mohan Lal

The Narcotics, Drugs and Psychotropic Substances Act was relevant in this case. It was argued that Article 20 simply forbids punishment or conviction under an ex post facto statute, not the trial or prosecution itself. Additionally, a trial conducted using a different procedure than that which was in place at the time the act was committed is not subject to the same restrictions and cannot be declared unconstitutional.

Rattan Lal v. Punjabi State

Ex post facto legislation does have an exemption to this rule. According to the Apex Court, if the punishment is reduced, criminal legislation may be implemented retrospectively.

Article 20(2): Double Jeopardy

Another significant privilege is protected by this clause, which states that "no individual shall be prosecuted and punished for the same offence more than once." This means that once an offence is committed, a person cannot face further legal action or punishment for that offence. It protects the accused from being subjected to additional penalties or subsequent legal actions for the same criminal offence. Any law that imposes two penalties for the same offence is void if it does so.

It should be underlined that only when the accused has already been "prosecuted" and "punished" once does Article 20 offer protection from double punishment. Even if the two offences share a trait, this rule does not bar further trials and convictions for a different crime.

Ingredients of Double Jeopardy 

  1. The person should be already accused of an offense 

  2. The prosecution for that offense must be going on 

  3. The result of that prosecution must be punishment 

In the case Venkataraman v. Union of India, the Supreme Court stated that this clause only addresses judicial penalties and established the rule that no one should be tried again for the same offence.

State of Bombay v. Maqbool Hussain

The Apex Court rendered a historic ruling in this case. The accused was in possession of some lex loci gold at the time. The customs officials seized his gold. When he was later charged with the crime and appeared in court, the issue of whether this amounted to double jeopardy was raised. The Court ruled that the Customs Authority's proceedings are not comparable to those of any court or tribunal. It was decided that the departmental proceedings are distinct from those of the judicial court and autonomous.

Article 20(3): Right against self-incrimination 

Another question that strikes our mind is, what is Article 20(3) of the Constitution? Under 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 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.

Ingredients: If the following requirements are met, Article 20(3) protection is available.

The person must be "accused of an offense" to qualify for protection under Clause 3 of Article 20.

The prohibition is on being forced to testify. He is required to testify, and the requirement is that he testify "against himself."

Satish Chandra vs. M.P. Sharma

In this instance, it was decided that the term "Witness" covers both oral and written testimony, as used in this Article. Authorities are free to search any location and confiscate any document. Any information that the accused provides voluntarily is acceptable.

Maneck vs. Narayanlal

In this instance, it was decided that a formal accusation against the person was required to assert the rule against self-incrimination. This rule cannot be applied based only on general investigations and inquiries.

A former Chief Minister was summoned to the Vigilance Police Station for an examination on a complaint brought against her under the Prevention of Corruption Act, 1947, in Nandini Satpathy v. P.L. Dani, the appellant. She received a lengthy list of written questions throughout the investigation, which she refused to respond to and asserted her right to protection under Article 20. (3). The right against self-incrimination is available to both the witness and the accused in the same manner, and it is applicable at every stage where information is provided, according to the Supreme Court, which held that Article 20(3)'s goal is to protect the accused from unwarranted police harassment. When the information is first used in a police inquiry, Article 20(3) privilege is in effect.


Article 20 aims to shield citizens from the Authorities' pointless activities. It safeguards against the legislative, executive, and judicial activities since Parliament is prohibited from passing laws whose effective dates are in the past, and the Executive is prohibited from needlessly harassing any person or accused. The judiciary is not allowed to charge multiple people with the same offence. The accused is given this protection regardless of whether they are Indian or international.

About the Author: Gurpreet Kaur Dutta | 82 Post(s)

A legal content writer who pursued BBA-LL.B.(H) from Amity University Chhattisgarh. She has a keen interest in corporate and IPR sectors. 

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