The Rajya Sabha on April 4th passed a bill which enables investigating officers to collect the biometric details of prisoners.

The bill allows law enforcement to collect data such as finger impressions, palm prints impressions, footprint impressions, photographs, iris and retina scans, physical and biological samples

However, critics of the bill feel that this violates Article 20 as it negates any sort of protection it provides against self incrimination. Just what is self incrimination and Article 20 under the Indian Constitution?

This article will provide the details regarding the Constitutional Right against Self Incrimination. The details of this article will be useful in the polity segment of the IAS exam

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What is Self-Incrimination?

In legal terminology, self-incrimination is an act of exposing oneself generally by making a statement “to an accusation or charge of crime; to involve oneself or another [person] in a criminal prosecution of danger thereof”.  In simpler words, it is the act of implicating or exposing one’s own self to criminal prosecution

Self-incrimination can be caused either through direct or indirect means. An example of direct means include interrogation or indirectly when information of a self-incrimination nature is disclosed voluntarily without any external pressure.

As far as legal systems are concerned, accused criminals cannot be compelled to incriminate themselves. However they can choose to speak to law enforcement authorities, but at the same time they cannot be punished for refusing to do so. It should be noted that while most countries have jurisdictions regarding the right to remain silent and right to legal counsel, the laws are not uniform across the world. For example the European Union has its own set of laws regarding self incrimination as per EU guidelines.

Right Against Self Incrimination in India

In India, Article 20 (3) of the Constitution of India states that the defendant has the right against self-incrimination. Though witnesses are not offered the same protection.

The protection offered under Article 20 (3) are as follows:

  • A defendant must be informed of their rights before meaning any statements which can incriminate him/her.
  • A defendant cannot be compelled to give any statements.
  • In the event that a defendant has been pressured into giving a statement that is self-incriminating, it would not be accepted in the court of law.

The Code of Criminal Procedure (CPC) gives defendants the Right to Remain Silent. It basically means that the defendant has the right to withhold information which can be self-incriminating from the authorities.

In order to exercise their right to remain silent, the defendant must verbally and clearly state that they are doing so. For example, a defendant can say, “I am exercising my right to remain silent and will not be answering any further questions.”

Article 20 (3) doest apply to those who made a willing confession without the use of coercion and intimidation.

The Supreme Court widened the scope of this immunity by interpreting the word ‘witness’ to include oral as well as documentary evidence so that no person can be compelled to be a witness to support a prosecution against himself.

This prohibition cannot be applied in cases where an object or document is searched or 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/her.

Features of Article 20(3)

1.Protecton to a Person accused of an offence: Article 20(3) offers protection to a person accused of an offence. In this case it refers to a person against whom a formal accusation and charge has been made against.  A formal charge is made when an F.I.R. is lodged. Even a formal complaint will also do. Since Article 20(30) will only come into force upon making a formal accusation, it won’t be necessary for the trial or enquiry to begin.

This right to silence is not limited to the case for which the person is being examined but further extends to other matters pending against him/her, which may have the potential of incriminating him in other matters.

2. Compulsion to be a witness is prevented: Compulsion is duress and any statement made under duress is not accepted in the court of law. Duress means a physical act and cannot be a state of mind. Physical act includes, beating, threatening, imprisonment of close ones.Under duress anyone can be compelled to become a witness. Article 20(3) prevents the scope of such compulsion. This was applied during the case of State (Delhi Administration) v. Jagjit Singh.

The court held that if an accused has been granted pardon under section 306 of CPC he/she will cease to be an accused and instead will become a witness for the prosecution.

3. Prevents Compulsion resulting in giving evidence against oneself: An accused can be compelled to submit to investigation by giving thumb impressions or specimens for writings or exposing the body for the purpose of identification.

Compulsion is an essential ingredient but if a person makes a confession without any inducement, threat or promise Article 20(3) does not apply. The accused may waive his/her right against self-incrimination by voluntarily making an oral statement or producing documentary evidence, incriminatory in nature.


Article 20 (3) ensures that the Constitutional Right against Self Incrimination is provided and grants the accused the right to remain silent over any issue that will tend to incriminate him/her.

It also extends to the persons who are compelled to be a witness and makes any and every evidence obtained as a result inadmissible in the court of law. The law also say that the an acucsed cannot be tortured or be forced to give confessions as a result. Methods like Narco-analysis, polygraph tests are violative of article 20(30 and violate Right to Privacy. Such methods can only be used under extraordinary circumstances.

Frequently Asked Questions about Constitutional Right against Self Incrimination


What is meant by the right against self-incrimination?

The right against self-incrimination includes the right to refuse to take the witness stand and the right to refuse to answer an incriminatory question. This article talks about the constitutional right against self-incrimination, who can use it and when it can be invoked.

Who can invoke the right against self-incrimination in India?

In India, under Article 20 (3) of the Constitution, the defendant has the right against self-incrimination, but witnesses are not given the same right. A defendant must be informed of their rights before making any statements that may incriminate them. Defendants must not be compelled to give any statements.

Are DNA Tests admissible under the Constitutional Right Against Self Incrimination?

The courts are reluctant in accepting evidence based on DNA testing because it challenges the Right to privacy and the Right against self-incrimination of an individual. Right to privacy is a right inherent in Right to Life and Personal Liberty under Article 21. However, in some cases, the Supreme Court held that the Right to Life and Personal Liberty is not absolute and can be subject to certain restriction.

Aspirants can find complete information about upcoming Government Exams through the linked article. More exam-related preparation materials will be found through the links given below

Related Links
Fundamental Rights in India Right to Freedom
44th Constitutional Amendment. Right to Life (Article 21),
Right to Equality Right against Exploitation
Right to Constitutional Remedies (Article 32) Right to be Forgotten
25 important SC judgements for UPSC Judicial Review



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