A person’s character depicts his past actions and whether the person has led a good or a bad life. Even in our day to day live character of people plays an important part as the action and reaction of people is dependent upon the assumption how the other person is going to behave. The Indian law is silent when it comes to defining the word ‘character’, but takes into consideration, a person’s character as evidence in certain situations. There is relevance of character in civil and criminal cases.
In almost all the jurisdiction character has been taken as a relevant evidence under certain circumstances. Character of any person is divided into two types- Reputation and Disposition. Indian law states the conditions as to character when relevant under evidence act. In the context of using character as an evidence there are two important question that needs to interpreted as per the Indian Evidence Act. These two questions are-
To understand and two answer these questions one can consult the top criminal defense lawyers.
Section 52 to 55 of Indian Evidence Act, 1872 deals with the character as evidence and relevance of character evidence. Thus to understand the relevance of character Indian Evidence Act one has to study the important sections of Indian Evidence Act which are Section 52 to 55 of the Act. Explanation to Section 55 of evidence act states that the word ‘character’ includes disposition along with reputation of a person. Disposition has been defined as what a person actually is i.e. all the acquired and inherited traits which sums up a person’s individuality. On the other hand, reputation means the society’s opinion regarding what a person’s traits must be. Reputation is the primary measure to prove a person’s character. Both civil and criminal law in India take regard of character as evidence as per the Evidence Act in India.
When it comes to admissibility of evidence under Indian Evidence Act , it can be done only under 2 circumstances:
To prove the existence of character as one of the facts of the case. This is also known as a character as a fact in issue in Indian Evidence Act. Here, the character is a disputed fact and its existence has to be proved by evidence.
To prove the existence of character as circumstantial evidence under Indian Evidence Act for proving another fact in the case. Here, the character is offered as an evidence to infer some other facts.
When the character of a person is the fact in issue, it may be used in both civil and criminal cases. However, when the character is used as circumstantial evidence, then it is allowed in only criminal cases and some special circumstances in civil cases.
As the character is a very indefinite and individualistic aspect, any conclusions drawn on its basis about the liability of a person. The general rule is that a person’s character is irrelevant when it comes to establishing their guilt. However, there are certain circumstances given under Section 52-55 of the Indian Evidence Act in which a character is considered as relevant in civil and criminal cases.
Section 52 of the Indian Evidence Act talks about relevancy of character in civil cases and lays down that in civil cases, evidence of a person’s character cannot be given to show that the person’s conduct is predictable or not. This means that a person cannot show his good character as evidence to prove that they would not have said or done something. Likewise, a person’s previous bad character cannot be used as an evidence that they have done or said something with regards to the civil case.
However, the law also states that a relevant fact cannot be ignored as an evidence only because it indirectly highlights a person’s character. Section 54 of the Indian Evidence Act lays down that the previous bad character of a person is irrelevant except when it is used in a reply. For instance, in case of cruelty as a ground for divorce, the cruel nature of the spouse can be used as an evidence of their previous bad character.
Another exception is given under Section 55 of the Indian Evidence Act which permits a person’s character to be considered important to determine the amount of compensation claimed. This is primarily used in defamation cases when a person causes injury to another’s reputation and damages are calculated on the basis of the person’s character.
When it comes to criminal cases characters, Section 53 of the Indian Evidence Act states that a fact that the person accused is of a good character is relevant, whereas under Section 54 of evidence act the fact that the accused is of a bad character is irrelevant. Every accused has a right to show that they are a person of good character. Additionally, the evidence that a person is of bad character is also admissible. Such evidence, however, is only admissible in form of a reply and not as a fact.
Difference between evidence of character in civil and criminal case -
Relevance of character in civil and criminal cases can be taken is the character of the person is per se if the question regarding the character is a fact in issue in the matter in which character evidence is needed. Thus a character can be admissible in the court depending upon the relevancy of facts under evidence act. However, when the character is to be used as a circumstantial evidence in Indian Evidence Act then it can be admissible only in criminal case and in civil case can be admissible only in certain specific conditions and circumstances only. It has also been clearly stated in the Section 52 of the Indian Evidence Act that to take previous conduct as an evidence in civil case is irrelevant unless from the other material facts of the case it is noted that the character as an evidence is relevant in the particular case.
Reason as to why character as an evidence is accepted only in criminal case without any restriction is because the civil cases which deal with contracts, promissory note do not involve the moral conduct of a person and thus previous conduct as an evidence is not relevant but civil cases such as cruelty, assault or negligence good or bad conduct of person becomes relevant. Thus, character as an evidence in civil cases is relevant only under specific circumstances.
Relevancy of character when applicable -
- When the character of any party is a fact in issue
- Character of any party becomes relevant because of the facts of the case and it is required that character is needed as an circumstantial evidence.
Whether character evidence is a fact in issue or not will depend upon the facts of each case and will be seen relevant depending upon case to case basis. Such as in cases of defamation character is of the prime importance as the person filing the case or the person being defamed alleges that the other person has maligned his/her image, reputation or character in public. For instance, in the case of B. Vasanthi vs Bakthavatchalu where the issue involved was the custody of minor child between the divorced parents.
In this case it was alleged by the wife that husband had illicit affairs with women which he used to bring home also and was a habitual drinker. She further said that he discontinued the education of their daughter, denying the allegations husband contended that wife’s influence is bad on child as she threatens to commit suicide in front of the child, has relation with other men and instead of sending daughter to school she makes her deliver letter to these men. Thus, in this case character of both husband and wife becomes relevant and it became a fact in issue so as to decide in whose custody lies the best interest of child.
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