“ The ignorance of the law excuses no man; not that all men know the law, but because it is an excuse every man will plead, and no man can tell how to refute him.”- John Seldon
Mistake of Law and Mistake of Fact
The term ‘mistake’ means the commission of an unintentional act causing injury to harm or damage. It infers to bonafide unintentional ignorance of past, present, or future facts from the ambit of contract or belief. The mistake is a defense and can be accessed by an accused to be excused from liability. The judgment of the court is based on the mental status of the accused.
For exempting from criminal liability, the following conditions are required to be fulfilled.
- Bonafide mistake of facts.
- It focuses on the reasonability of the mistake of fact.
- It can be a mistake of fact, but a mistake of law is not acceptable.
Sec 76 and Sec 79 of the Indian Penal Code(IPC), 1860, deals with the provisions of mistake of fact and mistake of law precisely. It is rooted in the principle of Ignorantia Facti Excusat, Ignorantia Juris Non- Excusat, which infers that ignorance of fact is an excuse, but ignorance of the law is no excuse.
Section 76 of IPC, 1860 explains acts ‘bound by the law’ or in good faith or is in apprehension to be bound by law, owing to a mistake of fact.
Section 79 of the IPC, 1860 explains the exempts of a person who believes that mistake was not by law in good faith and would be justified by law. The sections are distinguished by the ‘bound by law’ and ‘justified by law.’ but are substantially agreed based on a mistake of fact and good faith. In section 76, an individual is under the impression that his actions are bound by law, and in Section 79, a person believes the law justifies his actions.
The sections intend to shield an individual from conviction whose actions are bound or justified by the law but, due to mistake of fact and in good faith, committed an offense.
The law commands every person to be vigilant. As it is said, Vigilantibus Non-Dormientibus Jura Subveniunt, which law aids the vigilant, is not indolent because there is no exception to criminal liability from ‘mistake of law.’ Permitting mistakes of law is the backing of disregard of the law.
Nevertheless, the law survives a scope where the mistake of law is permissible. The following exceptions are:
- Unpublished law.
- When the statute is overturned or held unconstitutional after the commission of the Act.
- One’s actions have relied upon judicial decisions.
- Relied upon an explanation by an appropriate official
Related case – laws.
The appellant was married on Sept 1880, and her husband went on missing. She was told he was on a ship and was lost. After seven years, believing her husband is dead, she married again, but her husband showed up and accused her of bigamy. It was pronounced that she was not guilty, and it was the mistake of fact as it is fair to believe that her husband is deceased.
In R vs. Bailey, the accused was away from the African coast when an act was passed, when the British Parliament passed a statute; thus, he could not have been held guilty of the passing of the law under which he is charged.
Chirangi v State held that an act done in good faith, believing to be justified by law, was a defense.
State of Maharashtra v Mayer Hans George held that a mistake of law is no crime.
State of West Bengal v Shew Mangal Singh a deceased and her brother was shot to death by police and was brutally murdered. The High Court and Supreme Court held that carrying out superiors’ orders in good faith in an impression bound by the law is a defense enshrined in Section 76 of IPC, 1860.
- v Prince, Prince took a 16-year-old girl without her parent’s belief under the impression that she was above the age of 16, which is an offense in England under the Offences against persons Act, 1861. Court held that there was malafide intention as he did not take reasonable inquiry about her age. He was convicted, even though; there is no men’s rea, for the offense of kidnapping.
The article describes defenses and exceptions of offenses related to the Indian Penal Code, 1860. The farmers of the Act knew that there might be cases and instances where the accused cannot be charged. Ignorance of the law will only lead to more rampant ignorance of the law, but the law also gives scope to the acts bound by the law or is justified by law or any act done in good faith.