By Bharti Verma

Published on: 06 September 2023 at 17:11 IST

We see a lot of reports of accusing people for various crimes as we follow the news every day. These circumstances raise a fundamental question that those who have been charged with a crime or who will appear in court for trial have any fundamental rights or protections?

This issue probably came up for in minds of Constitution drafting committee as well so under Part III of the Indian Constitution Article 20 is incorporated as a solution to this problem.

Article 20 of the Constitution of India is a fundamental right that provides certain protections to individuals who are accused of an offence The Article consists of three clauses, each addressing different aspects of fair legal proceedings.

The Article provides for protections in respect of conviction of offence, which is considered to be one of the most vital provisions of Constitution of India, as cannot be set aside, even during emergency, it upholds the principle of ex post facto laws, double jeopardy and protects individuals against self-incrimination.

The provision safeguards convictions of accused for offenses by ensuring that individuals cannot be found guilty of actions that were not considered offenses when committed. Additionally, it prevents imposing penalties more severe than those prescribed by the prevailing laws during the time of the offence. Ultimately contains provision with respect to protection against double jeopardy and protects individuals against compulsion to be a witness against himself.

What is Article 20(1)

Article 20(1) of constitution of India read as: No person shall be convicted of any offence except for violation of the 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.

The Article establishes that criminal laws cannot be applied retroactively. In other words, if a particular action was not deemed a crime when it occurred, a person cannot be charged with a crime for that action later, even if the law has changed in the interim. This principle protects individuals from being unfairly subjected to criminal liability for past conduct.

Secondly, it sets a limit on the severity of penalties that can be imposed. It ensures that the punishment for a particular offense cannot be more severe than what was legally prescribed at the time of the offense. This restriction prevents governments from arbitrarily increasing the punishment for an offense after it has been committed.

Article 20(1) was primarily intended to protect people from ex post facto laws.

Ex post facto laws mean retrospective laws which means that a new law is applied to former occurrences, making them unlawful or punishable even though they were lawful at the time they took place.

Ex post facto laws are typically seen as unfair and unjust , under Article 20(1) retrospective application of criminal law is barred.

The idea of legal certainty and fairness in the criminal judicial system is upheld by Article 20(1). It ensures that people are aware of the legal consequences of their acts at the moment they act, preventing the government from changing the law after an act has been performed.

Interpretation of Article 20(1)

1. No Person shall be convicted for any offence except for violation of law in forces at the time of conviction of an offence as new law cannot punish an old act or offence.

2.No person will be subjected to a Penalty greater than that which might have been inflicted under the law in force at the time of commission of an offence.

3. The provision puts Direct limitation on legislature as not to create criminal laws with retrospective effect.

In the case of Kedar Nath Vs. State of west Bengal (1953) the accused committed an offence in the year 1945 Under a statute which was amended in the year 1949 where amendment enhanced Punishment for the Same offence. The Supreme court held that the enhanced punishment would not be applicable to the accused for act done in the year 1945.

In Rao Shiv Bahadur Singh V. state of Vindhya. Pradesh (1953) it was held that Retrospective creation of offences which punishes an old act or offence is bad, inequitable & Unjust in law.

The Supreme Court in RC Cooper V. Union of India (1970) held that citizens cannot be subjected to retrospective taxation regulations. The general idea that Article 20(1) applies to all penal legislation was illustrated by this case.

In the case of State of Punjab V. Dalbir Singh (2012), the Supreme Court stressed that Article 20(1) is a basic right that should be widely read to preclude any kind of retrospective enforcement of criminal legislation.

What is Article: 20(2)

Article 20 (2) of constitution of India read as: No person shall be prosecuted and punished for the same offence more than once.

The article represents legal principle known as “double jeopardy.” This principle is a fundamental aspect of many legal systems and serves to protect individuals from being subjected to multiple prosecutions or punishments for the same offense.

Article 20(2) primarily intended to protect people from double jeopardy which forbids charging and penalizing a person for the same crime more than once. A person cannot be tried for the same offense once they have been tried, found guilty, or acquitted, according to Article 20(2). This defense covers both the criminal trial and the penalty that follows.

This provision is based on legal maxim “Nomo debet bix Venari Pro una et eadem causa” which means the person should be punished twice for same offence.

The Article lays emphasized on the finality of both acquittals and convictions in Article 20(2). The government cannot file an appeal after a person is found not guilty of a specific crime and demand a new trial on the same allegations. In the same way, even if new evidence is discovered after a person is convicted and sentenced, they cannot be tried again for the same crime.

It makes sure that no one receives a double sentence for the same crime. Even if a different legal provision or law is implemented after the initial sentence, a person cannot be penalized again for the same crime for which they have already been punished.

The Article 20(2) does not apply to Appeals as Appeals does not amount subsequent prosecution rather Appeal is a continuous/original prosecution. It even does not bar subsequent trial for any other offence.

Essentials for seeking protection under Article 20(2)

  1. The person must be an accused of an offence.
  2. Proceeding against such person (accused) must have been initiated at Court or Judicial Tribunal.
  3. The person (accused) must have been prosecuted and punished in the previous proceeding.
  4. The subsequent proceeding must be for the same offence for which he was prosecuted and punished in previous proceeding.

In K. M. Nanavati V. State of Maharashtra (1962), where the question of double jeopardy arose, as the defendant was found not guilty by Judge but was put on trial again by the state. In its ruling, the Supreme Court emphasized the protection against double jeopardy guaranteed by Article 20(2) and found that the re-trial was not permitted.

In State of Andhra Pradesh V. Mohd. Iqbal Ahmed (1979) The Supreme Court made it clear in this instance that Article 20(2) covers both subsequent trials and sanctions for the same offense only.

In the case of Kolla Veera Raghav Rao V. Vinketsewara Rao (2011) Supreme court held where the accused has Punished under one law, he cannot be subsequently punished for same facts under any other law.

The Supreme Court reaffirmed in S.A.B. Abbas V. State of Karnataka (2012) that Article 20(2) forbids both numerous trials and punishments for the same offense.

What is Article 20(3)

Article 20 (3) of Constitution of India read as: No person accused of any offence shall be compelled to be a witness against himself.

The article encompasses right against self-incrimination is a vital protection for individuals accused of crimes, ensuring that their rights are respected and that they are not compelled to provide evidence that could lead to their own conviction.

Article 20(3) lays down principle that no person accused of any offence shall be compelled to be an witness against himself. This clause helps to maintain the integrity of the criminal justice system by ensuring that confessions or statements are obtained voluntarily and without coercion.

Protection from Compulsion: Article 20(3) gives people the freedom to decline to submit information that could be used against them. This defense is available throughout the entire criminal justice process, from the inquiry to the trial.

The protection under Article 20(3) is for Accused Persons, which provides privilege against self-incrimination, ensuring that a person cannot be coerced or forced to make comments or produce information that could result in their own prosecution or conviction, is embodied in Article 20(3).

The provision is based on legal maxim “Nemo tenetur seipsum accusare “, which means No one is bound to accuse himself. This maxim emphasizes that people cannot be coerced or forced to incriminate themselves or reveal information that might result in their own prosecution or conviction.

Rights protected under Article 20(3) and who can seek the protection:

  1. The protection is available to a person who is accused of an offence.
  2. It is a protection against compulsion to be a witness against himself.

In State of Bombay V. Kathi Kalu Oghad (1961), the Supreme Court determined that it would be unlawful and in violation of Article 20(3) to subject an accused person without their agreement to narcoanalysis, polygraph, or brain-mapping tests.

In the case of Nandini Satpathy V. P.L. Dani (1978), the Supreme Court ruled that forcing someone to provide a sample of their voice, handwriting, or signature would be against Article 20(3) of the Constitution if it had the effect of turning them into a witness against themselves.


Fair trial and justice are essential human rights that lie at the core of a just and democratic society. In India, these fundamental rights are safeguarded under Article 20 and Article 21 of the Indian Constitution, which collectively establish the foundation for the protection of an individual’s dignity and liberty.

Article demonstrates the Indian Constitution’s commitment to upholding democratic principles, the rule of law, and basic rights to the accused. It ensures that justice is carried out fairly and equally and acts as a safeguard against the state’s arbitrary and oppressive activities.

It provides essential safeguards to individuals facing criminal charges. It prevents double jeopardy, protects against self-incrimination, and prohibits the retrospective application of criminal laws, all of which are fundamental principles of justice and fairness in the legal system.

Articles 20 and 21 are the two most important fundamental right provided under Indian constitution which cannot be set aside during emergency as well, which in essence signifies the importance of Article 20.

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