File Copyright Online - File mutual Divorce in Delhi - Online Legal Advice - Lawyers in India

Presumption of Innocence: Legal Principle

The principle of presumption of innocence was first introduced by Sir William Garrow (1760-1840) and is commonly known as 'innocent unless proven guilty.' It is considered a fundamental aspect of criminal law and suggests that a person is to be assumed innocent until sufficient evidence is presented to prove otherwise. In other words, it is the responsibility of the prosecution to establish guilt beyond a reasonable doubt, and if they fail to do so, the accused should be deemed innocent.

The United Nations, in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, recognizes the right to be presumed innocent as an international human right under Article 11.

The common law system was inherited by India through British colonialism, leading to the adoption of the presumption of innocence rule. Although not explicitly stated, this rule is deeply ingrained in our country's criminal jurisprudence. This can also be deduced from Article 20(3) of the Constitution of India, which guarantees the right against self-incrimination, preventing a person from being forced to testify against themselves. This right is crucial as it places the burden of proof on the prosecution rather than the accused. The principle of presumption of innocence was affirmed by the Supreme Court in the case of Data Ram v. State of U. P., as a fundamental aspect of criminal jurisprudence.

Throughout the 2000s, the Supreme Court maintained the belief that this right is exclusively for the accused in a trial, as evidenced by several verdicts. However, it wasn't until 2010, in the case of Manu Sharma v. State (NCT) of Delhi, that the Court addressed the impact of media trials on the accused and acknowledged that violating the presumption of innocence would be contrary to both the rule of law and Article 21 of the Constitution. Following this, a Constitution Bench explicitly stated that the principle of presumption of innocence is a fundamental part of the rule of law under Article 14 and the right to life and personal liberty under Article 21.

The principle 'Ei incumbit probatio qui dicit, non qui negat' is a well-known legal maxim in Latin, which means that the burden of proof lies on the party making a claim, not on the opposing party. It serves as a fundamental pillar of justice, placing the responsibility for proving allegations solely on those who make them.

The case of Babu v. State of Kerala, (2010) 9 SCC 189, establishes the principle that every accused person is presumed innocent unless proven guilty. This presumption of innocence is considered a fundamental human right and is a crucial aspect of criminal law.

However, there are certain statutory exceptions to this principle, and it serves as the foundation of criminal jurisprudence. Cases involving waging war against the State, money laundering, dowry deaths etc are exceptions in this regard. The UAPA law also places the onus on the accused to prove their innocence. As a result, obtaining bail or a fair trial becomes a challenging task for the accused.

The principle of presumption of innocence assumes that the burden of proof lies with the prosecution to establish the culpability of the defendant. The defendant is considered innocent until proven guilty. The defendant is entitled to refrain from speaking and cannot be compelled to confess (with exceptions for situations like taking photographs, collecting samples such as blood, obtaining fingerprints, etc.)

The concept of 'reversal of burden' (also known as 'praesumptio iuris tantum') is the assumption that a certain fact is true unless it is contested and proven otherwise. This can be seen in situations such as the presumption of sanity in a criminal case, where the burden is on the defendant to raise the defence of insanity to challenge this presumption.

The allocation of burden of proof can vary depending on the legal context. For example, in civil proceedings, the burden typically lies with the plaintiff to prove certain actions, such as demonstrating that the defendant borrowed money. Similarly, under the section 138 Negotiable Instruments Act, the burden may shift to the defendant once a negotiable instrument is drawn.

In the case of Kali Ram v. Himachal Pradesh, (AIR 1973 SC 2773), presided over by Justices HR Khanna, Hans Raj, T Alagirisamy, Sarkaria, and Ranjit Singh, there are certain instances where statutory presumptions may arise regarding the guilt of the accused. However, it is important to note that the burden of proof remains on the prosecution to establish the existence of necessary facts before the presumption can be drawn.

This case emphasized that when there are two possible interpretations of the evidence presented - one pointing to the accused's guilt and the other to their innocence - the interpretation that favours the accused should be adopted. This principle is especially relevant in cases where the prosecution relies on circumstantial evidence to prove the guilt of the accused. Further, if there is evidence consistent with the innocence of the accused, even if it is not definitively proven, the accused should be acquitted.

In cases relating to the Narcotic Drugs and Psychotropic Substances Act (NDPS) and the Protection of Children from Sexual Offences Act (POCSO), there are other laws that determine the shifting of burden of proof. According to Section 35 (1) of the NDPS Act, if a person is being prosecuted for a crime that requires a guilty mindset, the court will assume that the accused possessed such a mindset. However, the accused can defend themselves by proving that they did not have the required mental state for the act in question. The term 'culpable mental state' includes intention, motive, knowledge, and belief in a fact.

Under Section 313 of the Criminal Procedure Code, the court must give the accused an opportunity to explain any incriminating evidence against them. Failure to do so can lead to serious prejudice, especially when the court is required to raise a statutory presumption against the accused. It is important for the court to fulfil this duty, especially when raising statutory presumptions, as it goes against the traditional concept of the accused's right to remain silent.

In the case of Noor Agha v. State of Punjab (2008 SCC (16) 417), the issue at hand was determining whether the use of a reverse burden was compatible with the presumption of innocence. In making this determination, the pragmatic aspects of proof must also be taken into consideration. This includes considering the difficulty for the prosecution to prove guilt without the reverse burden and the ease with which an innocent defendant could discharge the burden.

According to the Prevention of Corruption Act, the presumption is raised under section 20 once it is proven by the prosecution that the accused has received any gratification. The burden then shifts to the accused to provide an explanation for the same. Although the statute does not explicitly state the standard of proof as 'preponderance of probability,' this concept has been acknowledged by courts under common law. This can be seen in the case of V.D Jhingan vs State of U.P (AIR 1966 SC 1672).

In the case of Surjit Biswas v. state of Assam in May 2013, it has been established as a legal principle that during a criminal trial, the purpose of interrogating the accused under Section 313 of the Criminal Procedure Code is to comply with the principles of natural justice, which require both sides to be heard. This implies that the accused must provide an explanation regarding any incriminating evidence against them, and the court must consider this explanation.

The case of Phula Singh v. H.P AIR 2014 SC 1256 ruled that during questioning, the defendant has the option to either remain silent or deny all allegations, however, the court has the right to make a judgement against the defendant as allowed by law.

Written By: Md.Imran Wahab
, IPS, IGP, Provisioning, West Bengal
Email: [email protected], Ph no: 9836576565

Also Read:
  1. Presumption Of Innocence And Burden Of Proof: Safeguarding Individual Rights In The Indian Judicial System By Ensuring Fair Trials
  2. Presumption of Innocence: Exploring the Legal Rights of an Accused Person

Law Article in India

Ask A Lawyers

You May Like

Legal Question & Answers

Lawyers in India - Search By City

Copyright Filing
Online Copyright Registration


How To File For Mutual Divorce In Delhi


How To File For Mutual Divorce In Delhi Mutual Consent Divorce is the Simplest Way to Obtain a D...

Increased Age For Girls Marriage


It is hoped that the Prohibition of Child Marriage (Amendment) Bill, 2021, which intends to inc...

Facade of Social Media


One may very easily get absorbed in the lives of others as one scrolls through a Facebook news ...

Section 482 CrPc - Quashing Of FIR: Guid...


The Inherent power under Section 482 in The Code Of Criminal Procedure, 1973 (37th Chapter of t...

The Uniform Civil Code (UCC) in India: A...


The Uniform Civil Code (UCC) is a concept that proposes the unification of personal laws across...

Role Of Artificial Intelligence In Legal...


Artificial intelligence (AI) is revolutionizing various sectors of the economy, and the legal i...

Lawyers Registration
Lawyers Membership - Get Clients Online

File caveat In Supreme Court Instantly