Judicial Reforms

No double jeopardy bar if there was no trial: Supreme CourtSC Judgements


Mains Paper 2: Indian Polity | Indian Constitution- historical underpinnings, evolution, features, amendments, significant provisions & basic structure

From UPSC perspective, the following things are important:

Prelims level: Fundamental rights and their interpretation

Mains level: Read the attached story


  • The bar of double jeopardy does not arise if an accused was discharged of a criminal offence, even before the commencement of trial, on the basis of an invalid sanction for prosecution held the Supreme Court.


  1. The corruption case was filed by the Aizawl police in February 2009 for misappropriation of public money.
  2. During inquiry, it was detected that the respondent had acquired valuable assets disproportionate to known sources of income.
  3. The first invalid sanction for prosecution was issued by the Commissioner-Secretary, Department of Personnel & Administrative Reforms (DP & AR) directly without the Governor’s approval.
  4. Following the discharge of the accused by the special court, the Governor accorded a fresh sanction in December 2013.
  5. The judgment is based on an appeal filed by the State of Mizoram against an order passed by the Gauhati High Court in August 2015.
  6. It upheld a Special Court decision to decline to entertain a second chargesheet filed in a corruption case against the accused, Dr. C. Sangnghina, on the ground of double jeopardy.

SC Ruling

  1. Article 20 (2) of the Constitution mandates that a person cannot be prosecuted or punished twice for the same offence.
  2. A Bench of Justices R. Banumathi and Indira Banerjee held in a judgment that if an accused has not been tried at all and convicted or acquitted, the principles of double jeopardy cannot be invoked at all.
  3. If an earlier order of sanction was found to be invalid, there is no bar for the competent authority to issue a proper order of sanction for prosecution.
  4. The courts are not to quash or stay the proceedings under any Act merely on the ground of an error, omission or irregularity in the sanction granted by the authority unless it is satisfied that such error, omission or irregularity has resulted in failure of justice, the SC observed.


Article 20 of the Indian Constitution

  1. The Article 20 is one of the pillars of fundamental rights guaranteed by the Constitution of India. It mainly deals with protection of certain rights in case of conviction for offences.
  2. When an individual as well as corporations are accused of crimes, the provisions of Article 20 safeguard their rights.
  3. The striking feature of the Article 20 is that it can’t be suspended during an emergency period.
  4. The Article has set certain limitations on the legislative powers of the Union and State legislatures.

Ex Post Facto Legislation 

  • The clause (1) of Article 20 protects individuals against ex post facto legislation, which means no individual can be convicted for actions that were committed before the enactment of the law.
  • In other words, when a legislature declares an act to be an offence or provides a penalty for an offence, it can’t make the law retroactive so as to prejudicially affect the individuals who have committed such acts prior to the enactment of that law.

Immunity from Double Punishment 

  • The Constitution of India prohibits double punishment for the same offence. That is reflected in the clause (2) of Article 20, which safeguards an individual from facing multiple punishments or successive criminal proceedings for the same crime.
  • According to this clause, no person shall be prosecuted and punished for the same offence more than once.
  • If someone has been put on trial and punished in a previous proceeding of an offence, he can’t be prosecuted and punished for the same proceedings of an offence again in subsequent proceeding. If any law provides for the double punishment, it will be considered void.

No immunity from Proceedings

  • Although Article 20 disapproves of the doctrine of ‘Double Jeopardy’, it does not give immunity from proceedings before a court of law or tribunal.
  • Hence, a public servant who has been punished for an offence in a court of law may yet be subjected to departmental proceedings for the same offence.
  • It is to be noted that Article 20 provides protection against double punishment only when the accused has been ‘prosecuted’ and ‘punished’ once.
  • Also, the Article does not prevent subsequent trial and conviction for another offence even if the two offences have some common aspects.

Immunity from Self-Incrimination

  • The immunity from self-incrimination is conferred in the Article 20(3) of the constitution which states that the accused can never be compelled to be a witness against himself. In short, no individual can be forced to accuse himself.
  • The scope of this immunity has, prima facie, been widened by the Supreme Court by interpreting the word ‘witness’ as inclusive of both oral and documentary evidence.
  • Hence, no person can be compelled to furnish any kind of evidence, which is reasonably likely to support a prosecution against him.
  • This ‘Right to Silence’ is not called upon in case any object or document is searched and seized from the possession of the accused.
  • For the same reason, the clause does not bar the medical examination of the accused or the obtaining of thumb-impression or specimen signature from him.

This immunity is only limited to criminal proceedings. 

  • The Article 20 (3) can be rightfully used as an anchor only by those accused of an offence and against whom an FIR has been lodged, which in normal course would result in prosecution.


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