Cardinal Principles of Criminal Law

There is a certain essential principle of criminal law which are as follows -

1. Political What is a crime and what is not? What one must be prohibited from doing? So, Crime is a behavior declared by some political agency. If the legislation passed any act or order then one must obey them otherwise they will be punished. For instance - If your mother suggests to be at home after 8 pm and if you don't obey her advice then you won't be offered food at night. Then it doesn't really matter whether you follow such rules or suggestions or not. But what really matters is if any legislation makes a law, one must follow it. For instance, if the Government passed an order not to go out of home after 6 pm during lockdown then it must be strictly followed, and if not then reasonable action can be taken against them.


2. Specificity It means every action is not a crime which is a crime that has been clearly defined? For instance- if a person takes any action in his / her self defense and another person died then it doesn't amount to murder.


3. Uniformity It means the punishment will be the same for the same offense committed in India. It basically means the yardstick must be the same. For eg - If someone killed a person in Uttarakhand then he must be given the same punishment as if he killed the person in Tamil Nadu or any part of India. But it doesn't mean universality. For instance - Adultery was not a crime in England but it was a crime in India as the wife has been considered to be the property of men so having sexual relationships with married women is considered to be the crime. But in case Joseph Shine v. Union of India, five judges bench on 27 September 2018 held Section 467 which talks about punishment for Adultery as unconstitutional and decriminalized Adultery as it was considered to be Anti-women.


4. Presumption of innocence Our Criminal laws are accused centric which means that the Court shall presume that the accused is innocent and the burden of proof is on the State or Prosecution. But it doesn't apply on all matters as there is certain exceptions to this, such as Rape as well as special provisions prevail if it contradicts this principle. The severity of Punishment and the seriousness of the crime are proportional to each other. It basically means if the seriousness of crime increases so does the punishment. For instance, if X committed murder and Y was indulged in the gang rape and afterward killed the girl. So, are both of them going to get the same punishment? Isn't it unjust to treat them in the same way? That's why the punishment depends upon the seriousness of the crime. 


5. Nulla Poena Sine Lege This means no penalty will be charged without any law. It means if a person is punished for any act committed by him then the act must be declared as a crime by the competent legislation or authority. For instance- One must not be punished for Adultery as it has been declared unconstitutional. While before September 2018 people are punished for Adultery. If the husband commits Marital Rape then why he isn't punished in India while in most of the countries people are punished for such acts. Although activists are demanding to Criminalise marital Rape the status is the same. So, it's clear no action or punishment can be given unless there is any law.


6. Protection against double jeopardy It means the person shall not be convicted twice for the same offense. This has been also guaranteed under Article 20(2) of the Constitution of India which states that No person shall be punished for the same offense more than once. It doesn't mean if the person is punished he won't be charged and punished for another offense. For example, if X killed a man and after two days he was engaged in robbery. So, he will be punished for both the offenses. But he won't be punished again and again for his offense. In Rudal Shah v. the State of Bihar, The convicted person was given imprisonment for 7 years but the authority let him go after 14 years. So in this case, he was paid compensation by the State for such negligence. 


7. Self-incrimination It means no person shall be compelled to give evidence against himself. It has also been guaranteed under Article 20(3) of the Constitution of India which states that no person accused of any offense shall be compelled to be a witness against himself. For instance - if X is in custody then he can't be the witness against himself. 


8. There must be physical and mental elements For any act to be considered as a crime there must be the actus reus(physical element) and the men's rea(mental element). For instance- if X threw a stone on Y and he died and later on it was found that X is not mentally stable. Then X will not be charged for murder. But if the person made a plan and killed someone then ultimately he will be punished for the act.




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