Character when relevant under Indian evidence law
Section 52 to section 55 of the Indian evidence act talks about when the character of a person becomes relevant and can be adduced as evidence in a proceeding.
Section 52 of the Act lays down the broad general principle that evidence of a party’s character cannot be given for the purpose of showing that it renders conduct imputed to him as probable or improbable. A party cannot give evidence of his good character for the purpose of showing that it is highly improper that he should be guilty of the conduct imputed to him. The court has to try the case on the basis of facts for determining the liability and not the character merely. The court has not to try the character of the parties and the evidence of character will not only prolong the proceedings but will also unnecessarily prejudice the mind of the judge one way or the other.
In civil cases, the previous conviction of the defendant is irrelevant.
Exceptions to this section are:-
- Character as affecting damages – the court may take note of the character of the plaintiff if it affects the amount of compensation that is to be awarded to him. The character of the defendant is irrelevant.
- When a character is in issue – when the character is the fact in issue, a party can give evidence.
- When a character appears from other relevant evidence – A fact which is otherwise relevant cannot be excluded from evidence only because it incidentally exposes or throws light upon a party’s character. Thus, if facts otherwise relevant show a party’s character also the court can take note of it imputed to the party.
Section 53 talks about the relevancy of previous good character in criminal cases. Every accused person is at liberty to give evidence of the fact that he is a man of a good character.
Section 53A of the Act talks about evidence of the character of previous sexual experience is not relevant in certain cases. This section came after the amendment of 2013, as a method of protecting the honor of the victim of rape or her previous sexual experience with any person. Where the question of consent of the victim arises, this section then declares evidence of her character or her previous sexual experience with any person as irrelevant on such an issue of consent.
Section 54 talks about a previous bad character not relevant, except in reply. It clearly means that the prosecution cannot lead evidence of the bad character of the accused as part of its original case. They can only produce evidence of bad character in reply to the accused showing his good character.
The exception to this provision is:-
- To rebut prior evidence of good character – where the accused has himself claimed about his good character, their prosecution may introduce evidence as to his bad character to rebut the accused’s claim.
- Where character is in issue – the ban imposed by section 54 of not introducing any evidence of the accused’s bad character first, is not applicable where the character of the accused is a fact in the issue itself.
- When otherwise relevant – evidence can always be given of facts which are relevant under any of the provisions relating to relevancy, even if such facts incidentally involve or reveal the character of the accused or of the prosecutor.
Section 55 of the Act talks about character as affecting damages – the word ‘character’ means a man’s reputation and evidence of character was required to be confined only to general evidence of reputation. Lord Denning observed that “ a man’s character, it is sometimes said, is what he, in fact, is whereas his reputation is what other people think he is”.
Thus, the evidence must refer to ‘reputation’ in this sense and not to his own personality or disposition. Evidence must be of the man’s general reputation and not the individual opinion of the witness. In civil cases, the fact that the character of any person is such as to affect the number of damages which he ought to receive is relevant.
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