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Evidence of Character

Updated: 4 days ago

Evidence of Character


The degree to which an individual's character and general reputation matter in civil or criminal proceedings has been elucidated by Sections 52-55, of Indian Evidence Act. Character, as defined, encompasses "a blend of distinctive qualities ingrained by nature or personal habit, setting one apart from others."

Concerning a party's character, it's crucial to differentiate between scenarios where character is directly under scrutiny and situations where it's not, as well as to discern whether the case pertains to civil or criminal matters.

Character in Civil Cases

In civil cases, presenting evidence regarding the character of any party involved to demonstrate the likelihood or unlikelihood of attributed conduct holds no relevance.

Regarding a party's character, it's crucial to distinguish between scenarios where character is directly under scrutiny and when it's not, and whether the matter pertains to civil or criminal proceedings.

When a party's general character is directly under scrutiny, whether in civil or criminal proceedings, evidence must be admitted regarding the nature of that general character. However, when the general character is not the main focus but is introduced to support another issue, it's generally excluded.

Thus, in civil proceedings, evidence of character to prove the imputed conduct is deemed irrelevant according to the Act (Section 52).

There are two exceptions to this rule: in civil proceedings, evidence of character affecting damages is permissible (Section 55), and in criminal proceedings... the good character of the accused is relevant, while the fact of having a bad character is, except in specific cases, deemed irrelevant (Sections 53 and 54).

The term "character" as mentioned in this section and Sections 53 and 54 is explicitly defined in the Explanation provided in Section 55. "Character" denotes a blend of distinctive traits influenced by either inherent disposition or personal practice, setting an individual apart from others.


Character in Criminal Cases

Previous Good Character 

Section 53 stipulates that "in criminal cases, the fact that the person accused possesses a good character holds relevance." Typically, we presume that an individual of good character and standing would refrain from engaging in criminal activities.

Hence, the demonstration of goodness implies a presumption against the perpetration of a crime.

Evidence showcasing good character is consistently admissible. However, character evidence inherently holds a lesser weight; it cannot supersede positive evidence concerning an individual's guilt.

In cases where doubt exists, it may serve to sway the balance in favour of the accused, as highlighted in the case of Bhagwan Swarup v State (AIR 1965 SC 682).

Previous Bad Character

Under Section 54, evidence regarding the bad character of an accused individual (for whom evidence of good character hasn't been presented) holds no relevance for the purpose of implying that the accused is likely to have committed the alleged offence.

Such evidence is deemed irrelevant and cannot be legally admitted, whether it's solicited by the prosecution or the defence.

Describing the accused as a lawbreaker constitutes evidence of character, a point emphasised by the Supreme Court, which consequently excluded it. The determination of an individual's guilt hinges on proving the alleged facts, not on proving their character.

While character evidence might breed prejudice, it doesn't contribute to substantiating guilt.

However, this prohibition doesn't impede evidence necessary to establish a motive for the crime or other relevant evidence.

In instances where the bad character of a person is the focal point, as per Explanation 1, the principle outlined in this section doesn't apply. Therefore, evidence can be provided regarding specific traits of bad character that are pertinent to the issue at hand.

Additionally, Explanation 2 clarifies that a previous conviction isn't admissible as evidence against the accused, except in cases where they are subject to enhanced punishment under Section 75 of the Penal Code due to a prior conviction or unless evidence of good character has been presented. In such instances, the fact of the accused's prior conviction can be admitted as evidence of bad character.

Character Affecting Damages

Section 55, concerning character's influence on damages, specifies that "in civil cases, the character of any individual, if it affects the amount of damages they should receive, holds relevance." Evidence regarding the good or bad character of the defendant is irrelevant to determining damages. However, the character of the plaintiff is pertinent.

In cases involving claims for damages due to seduction, rape, or libel, evidence of the plaintiff's bad character is admissible, as it's likely to impact the damages they should receive.


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