The makers of the Indian Constitution have incorporated Article 20 for the protection of the rights of accused ones or the ones presented before the Court for trial. Article 20 contains three clauses which deal with the issue of unnecessary actions undertaken by the Legislature, Executive & implementing authorities. Article 20 cannot be suspended during a state of emergency.

Article 20 (1): Ex post facto law

Article 20(1) makes provision against Ex post facto law. It states that no one can be prosecuted and convicted for any kind of offence in accordance with those laws which did not exist at the time of the commission of the act by the accused. Also, punishments imposed cannot be greater than those existing at the time of commission. This provision states that laws regarding criminal offences cannot be made having retrospective effects.

For Example, A went to eat noodles in restaurant X. Next day a law was made that anyone found eating in the restaurant X will be punished with a fine of Rs. 1000. A cannot be punished with a fine as he ate in the restaurant when there was no such law existing.

Ex post facto laws are of three types which are:

  • A law which declares some kind of act or omission as an offence for the first time after completion of that act or commission of that omission.
  • A law which enhances the punishment tenure or fine after commissioning of such offence.
  •  A law which prescribes a new procedure or changes the existing procedure for the prosecution of an offence subsequent to the commission of that offence.

Kedar Nath v. State of West Bengal

In this case, it was held by the Apex Court that whenever any action is declared to be a criminal offence or the penalty or punishment for any act is been increased, it should always be done to have prospective effect. Any such law can’t have retrospective effect according to Article 20. However, it is only the procedure of sentencing and convicting which is prohibited in this clause and not the trial itself.

Mohan Lal v. the State of Rajasthan

In this case Narcotics, Drugs and Psychotropic Substances Act was involved. It was put forward that only conviction or punishment under an ex post facto law is prohibited under Article 20 and not the trial or prosecution itself. Also, a trial under a different procedure than what existed during the commission of the act doesn’t come under the ambit of the same and can’t be struck down as unconstitutional.

Maru Ram Etc. vs Union Of India & Anr.

It was held that at the time of commencement of the offence whatever penalty exists for that offence only can be imposed on the accused. There should be no retrospective effect which makes penalties heavier.

Rattan Lal v. the State of Punjab

There exists an exception to this provision of Ex post facto laws. Apex Court said that retrospective implementation of criminal laws can be there if there is a reduction in punishment.

Article 20(2): Double jeopardy

The origin of the Doctrine of Double Jeopardy comes from American Jurisprudence of punishment. It states that no accused can be prosecuted and can be punished twice for the same offence in subsequent proceedings. It means for the same offence involving the same set of facts one should not be punished twice.

Venkataraman v. Union of India

 Supreme Court in this case said that this provision deals exclusively with judicial punishments and establishes the provision that no person should be tried twice for the same offence done by him.

Maqbool Hussain v. the State of Bombay

In this case, Apex Court gave a landmark judgement. The accused possessed some amount of gold which was lex loci at that time. Customs authority confiscated his gold. Later on, when he was prosecuted for the offence in Court it was confronted whether this amounts to Double Jeopardy or not. It was said by the Court that proceedings by the Customs Authority do not amount to proceedings by any judicial court or tribunal. It was held that the departmental proceedings are independent and different from the proceedings by the judicial court.

Article 20(3): Prohibition against Self-Incrimination

This provision means that no individual can be forced to provide any information either oral or in writing which can be used against him or her in further trial proceedings. Prohibition against self-incrimination can only be effective if the case involves a criminal offence. There is an exception to this rule too. Authorities can issue orders for the accused to bring and present documents which are under his possession as stated under Section 91 of the Code of Criminal Procedure. According to Section 161 of CrPC, the accused is bound to answer all the questions truly and correctly leaving those which could be used against him later during the stage of the trial.

M.P. Sharma v. Satish Chandra

In this case, it was held that the word ‘Witness’ in this Article includes evidence in oral and document form. There is no restriction on authorities to search or seize any document. Any information which is produced voluntarily by the accused himself is permissible.

Narayanlal vs Maneck

In this case, it was held that to claim prohibition against self-incrimination there should exist a formal accusation against the individual. Only general investigations and inquiries don’t form grounds for the application of this provision.

Nandini Sathpathy vs P. L. Dani

In this case, the former Chief Minister of Orissa was ordered to appear at Police Station for examination after which a further investigation was to be started. The case was registered against her under the Prevention of Corruption Act, 1947. She was been interrogated by lots of questions given to her in writing. She applied for protection against self-incrimination and refused to answer questions. The Apex Court held that the provision of self-incrimination has the objective to protect the accused from unnecessary police harassment and investigations apart from the proceedings of the trial.


The object of Article 20 is to protect citizens from unnecessary actions by the Authorities. It protects from actions of Legislature, Executive and Judiciary as Parliament cannot make any law whose enforcement date is in past, Executive cannot unnecessarily harass any individual or accused. Any individual cannot be prosecuted by the judiciary for the same offence. This protection is provided to the accused whether Indian or foreigner.

Author: Kanvi Gupta

Leave a Reply