by | Aug 28, 2023

Under the Indian Penal Code (IPC) , the concepts of “Mistake of Fact” and “Mistake of Law” play a crucial role in determining criminal liability under Section 76. While a genuine mistake of fact may sometimes exempt an individual from criminal liability, a mistake of law is generally not considered as an excuse for criminal behaviour.

Mistake of facts – A mistake of fact refers to a situation where a person commits an act without knowledge of the circumstances surrounding it. This mistake can be a valid defence against criminal liability if it negates the existence of a guilty mind. In such cases, the IPC provides a defence, as the person lacks the necessary mens rea or guilty mind. 

Mistake of law – A mistake of law arises when a person commits an act without the knowledge that it is illegal, despite the act being objectively unlawful. However, in India, the general rule is that ignorance of law is not an excuse. This means that individuals are expected to know the law and cannot claim immunity based solely on their lack of knowledge.So, ignorance of the law is not considered a valid defence.

Sections 76 to 106 within Chapter IV of Indian Penal Code, outline various exceptions and defences that the accused can plead to potentially avoid criminal liability.They are-

  1. Mistake of fact (Section 76 and 79) : It covers situations where a person unknowingly commits a crime due to a genuine misunderstanding or misinformation.
  2. Judicial Acts (Section 77 and 79) : It pertains to actions taken by judges or legal authorities within their official capacity. 
  3. Absence of criminal intent (Sections 81 – 86 and Sections 92 -94) : It applies when a person can prove that they had no intention to commit a crime. It includes situations where the person lacked knowledge or awareness of the illegal nature of their actions.
  4. Consent (Sections 87 and 90) : It deals with situations where a person has given their voluntary agreement or permission for a particular action, making it lawful.
  5. Trifling Acts (Section 95) : It covers minor or insignificant acts that are not considered criminal offences due to their trivial nature.
  6. Private defence to person or property(Sections 96-106) : It applies when a person uses reasonable force to protect themselves or their property from imminent harm or danger. 

Understanding the nuances of mistakes of fact and law is essential in determining criminal liability under the Indian Penal Code. The mistake of facts refers to a genuine error made by an individual regarding a situation, while a mistake of law refers to a lack of knowledge or misunderstanding of the law. Both can be considered as defences to criminal liability, but their applicability depends on the specific circumstances of the case.

Written By Nancy Sharma

I am Nancy Mahavir Sharma, a passionate legal writer and , a judicial service aspirant who is interested in legal researching and writing. I have completed Latin Legum Magister degree. I have been writing from past few years and I am excited to share my legal thoughts and opinions here. I believe that everyone has the potential to make a difference.

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