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Article 20 of the Indian Constitution

Posted by Manoj Vats on February 3, 2015 | 2 Comments to Read

The Article 20 is one of the pillars of fundamental rights guaranteed by the Constitution of India. It mainly deals with 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. The striking feature of the 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. 

Article 20 of the Indian Constitution

Ex Post Facto Legislation 

The clause (1) of Article 20 protects individuals against ex post facto legislation, which means no individual can be convicted for actions that were committed before the enactment of the law. 

In other words, when a legislature declares an act to be an offence or provides a penalty for an offence, it can’t make the law retroactive so as to prejudicially affect the individuals who have committed such acts prior to the enactment of that law.

Immunity from Double Punishment 

The Constitution of India prohibits double punishment for the same offence. That is reflected in the clause (2) of Article 20, which safeguards an individual from facing multiple punishments or successive criminal proceedings for the same crime. According to this clause, no person shall be prosecuted and punished for the same offence more than once. 

If someone has been put on trial and punished in a previous proceeding of an offence, he can’t be prosecuted and punished for the same proceedings of an offence again in subsequent proceeding. If any law provides for the double punishment, it will be considered void. 

Although Article 20 disapproves of the doctrine of ‘Double Jeopardy’, it does not give immunity from proceedings before a court of law or tribunal. Hence, a public servant who has been punished for an offence in a court of law may yet be subjected to departmental proceedings for the same offence. 

It is to be noted that Article 20 provides protection against double punishment only when the accused has been ‘prosecuted’ and ‘punished’ once. Also, the Article does not prevent subsequent trial and conviction for another offence even if the two offences have some common aspects. 

Immunity from Self-Incrimination 

The immunity from self-incrimination is conferred in the Article 20(3) of the constitution which states that the accused can never be compelled to be a witness against himself. In short, no individual can be forced to accuse himself. 

The scope of this immunity has, prima facie, been widened by the Supreme Court by interpreting the word ‘witness’ as inclusive of both oral and documentary evidence. Hence, no person can be compelled to furnish any kind of evidence, which is reasonably likely to support a prosecution against him. This ‘Right to Silence’ is not called upon in case any object or document is searched and seized from the possession of the accused. For the same reason, the clause does not bar the medical examination of the accused or the obtaining of thumb-impression or specimen signature from him. 

This immunity is only limited to criminal proceedings. 

The Article 20 (3) can be rightfully used as an anchor only by those accused of an offence and against whom an FIR has been lodged, which in normal course would result in prosecution.

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