An overview of Article 20 of the Indian Constitution


Dealing specifically with the meaning of Article 20 of the Indian Constitution would essentially deal with the protection of fundamental rights in the conviction of crimes. Put simply, the subject-matter of Article 20 can be postulated under the following conditions:

  • First of all, no person can be convicted of any offense other than the law currently in force, and under no circumstances can that person be punished with any increased sentence other than that provided at the time of the commission of the said offense.
  • Taking into account the facts and circumstances of the offense mentioned, no person should be convicted more than once for the same offense.
  • Third, no person should be compelled or compelled to produce evidence or disclose information that is likely to be used against them during legal proceedings.

Overall, Article 20 is considered to be one of the most important provisions of the Indian constitution, which cannot be overridden even in times of need.


It would be imperative to take into account the first paragraph of that provision, which precludes retrospective application of criminal law in circumstances where a new crime has been committed. Such laws, which bring a new crime to light, cannot be applied retrospectively to punish a person for a past crime as it would result in a violation of Article 21 of the Indian Constitution (deprivation of the person’s right to Life and freedom) and would also violate the principle of justice, reasonableness, equity and good conscience and be perceived as a form of arbitrary legislation.

At this point it would be appropriate to consider the role of different cases in interpreting the same. The seminal verdict of Kedar Nath versus West Bengal State Witnessed by the Hon’ble Supreme Court ruling that any act declared or punished by law to be punishable by law is considered prospective and cannot be retrospectively implemented as set out in Article 20 (1) of the Indian Constitution.

Likewise with Mohan Lal v. State of Rajasthan, the Hon’ble Court found that Article 20 (1) of the Indian Constitution only covers convictions and punishments and does not apply to judicial proceedings or law enforcement matters. Apart from that, proceedings that are subject to a different process than the earlier one during the commission of the said offense do not fall under the said provision.

An exception to this provision has become known through the case of Rattan Lal versus Punjab State, Finding that the Hon’ble Supreme Court had approved the retrospective application of criminal law related to the reduction of sentences in that law.


While the literal meaning of the term identified as danger is viewed as anger or danger, in criminal law it means “punishment”. Regarding the discussion of the doctrine of the “double jeopardy”, however, the concept mentioned goes back to American case law, which states that no one can be punished and prosecuted more than once for the same act / crime. In order to prove the applicability of this provision, it is imperative that the defendant can prove that he was previously prosecuted and punished for the same offense in a quasi-judicial or judicial process. However, if the accused is found to have previously been prosecuted and acquitted for the same offense, the applicability of Article 20 (2) of the Indian Constitution does not apply.

It would be appropriate to bring the case to light Venkataraman against the Indian Union, the Hon’ble Supreme Court has made it clear that the foregoing provision only applies to judicial penalties, ensuring that no one is prosecuted by the judicial authorities more than once for the same offense. In addition, there is also the presence of the case of Maqbool Hussain v State of Bombay, This is a landmark judgment that observed a situation where the accused was caught in possession of a certain amount of gold, which violated the lex loci aspect during that time after that item was revoked by customs. In the course of time, just in case, the question arose whether this amounted to the doctrine of double danger.

But the Hon’ble Supreme Court ruled that departmental proceedings are separate and independent from litigation in a tribunal or court. The same principle was repeated in the case of AA Mulla v Maharashtra State,it was found that the aforementioned provision may not apply if the facts in a penalty or a subsequent offense are considered unambiguous.

This aspect has been adequately covered under Section 300 (1) of the 1973 Code of Criminal Procedure, which provides that any person who has been prosecuted or convicted by a competent court for a particular crime will not be prosecuted again until the previous acquittal or the Sentencing remains in force.

However, the applicability of the mentioned provision requires the fulfillment of certain conditions, including:

  • It is imperative that the accused be tried in an earlier court, and that provision relates solely to the procedure and prosecution.
  • As stated above, it is critical that the acquittal / conviction is final and not overturned by any form of appeal or retrial.
  • It is also imperative that the court hearing the case has jurisdiction and is known to act under a competent jurisdiction and should ensure that it does not exercise its powers in a manner that is ultra-vires in nature .
  • In the subsequent proceedings, it must be ensured that the accused is not brought to court for the same facts and criminal offenses.
  • Finally, it is also important that the previous trial ended in conviction or acquittal and, in cases that ended after investigation, such cases would fall within the scope of Section 300 (1) of the 1973 Code of Criminal Procedure.


This particular provision investigates and prohibits a defendant from giving evidence or information against himself. This protection is available at all stages and is intended to protect and prevent the physical and mental coercion of the accused. It should be noted, however, that this protection only applies to the protection of personal knowledge.

In case of Deputy Sharma v. Satish Chandra, It has been determined that regardless of whether the person concerned is a defendant or a mere suspect, the protection provided by Article 20 (3) of the Indian Constitution is in effect. In that case, however, it was found that Article 20 (3) does not apply if the person concerned voluntarily chooses to disclose information. This provision does not provide protection to witnesses under Article 20 (3) of the Indian Constitution, which category of persons is protected under Section 132 of the Indian Evidence Act of 1872.

In addition, in the case of State of Bombay v. Kathi Kalu Oghad, this principle has been clarified by stating that this protection is only applicable taking into account the facts and circumstances of the case, on the basis of which the personal knowledge of the individual (ie the accused) is protected.

The seminal verdict of Nandini Satpathie v. PL Dani, the intolerable scope of Article 20 (3) of the Indian Constitution to light, in which it was postulated that this provision arises in the run-up to the investigation and the protection takes effect in the investigation, investigation and litigation phases. Section 161 StPO 1973 in conjunction with Sections 313 and 315 illuminates the protection levels. More importantly, Article 20 (3) is considered to be consistent with Section 161 (2) of the 1973 Code of Criminal Procedure.


All in all, it can be stated that the pure applicability of Article 20 was created to protect the individual from the excess of legislative, executive and judicial branches, which brings to light the importance of the doctrine identified as separation of powers. This protection is available not only to Indians but also to foreigners and is therefore considered to be the foundation of the Indian Constitution, as it ensures basic human rights for the accused and the convicted.

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