Ignorantia facti excusat , ignorantia juris non excusat is a Latin maxim where it means Ignorance of the fact excuses; ignorance of the law excuses not. The maxim is often cited as Ignorantia legis [or juris] neminem excusat.
The above maxim has been further explained by a simple example, where in first, money paid with full knowledge of the facts, but through ignorance of the law, is not recoverable if there be nothing against conscience in retaining it (ignorant juris not excusat) and, secondly, money paid in ignorance of the facts is recoverable, provided there have been no laches in the party paying it.(ignorantian facti excusat).
Therefore, this maxim applies in criminal cases, particularly to MISTAKE under Criminal law that is, sec -76 and sec- 79 of IPC,1860.
Mistake under IPC is covered under the following Sections of the Indian Penal Code:
Section 76.Act done by a person bound ,or by mistake of fact believing himself bound, by law. —Nothing is an offense which is done by a person who is, or who by reason of a mistake of fact and not by reason of a mistake of law in good faith believes himself to be, bound by law to do it.
Section 79. Act done by a person justified, or by mistake of fact believing himself justified, by law.—Nothing is an offense which is done by any person who is justified by law, or who by reason of a mistake of fact and not by reason of a mistake of law in good faith, believes himself to be justified by law, in doing it.
According to Russel, mistake would be a mistake if;
• If the act is justified on the basis of the state things believed to exist, if true
• That the mistake must be reasonable
• The mistake must relate to fact and not to law
The principle ”ignorance of law is no excuse”, which implies that it is not open to a wrongdoer to plead ignorance of law as a shield to avoid criminal responsibility, is based on the ground that everybody is presumed, rather duty bound, to know the law. Ignorance of those things, which one is bound to know, therefore, does not excuse him .Therefore, a mistake of law, reasonable or unreasonable, even in good faith, does not operate as an exonerating factor. However, it may operate as a mitigating factor. However, the legal fiction that ignorantia juris non excusat is justified in the public interest. If ignorance of law is admitted as an exonerating factor, it can be argued, every accused will take the plea of mistake of law as a defence and it will be difficult for prosecution to refute it and to show affirmatively that the accused knew the law in question.
It is also significant to note that some of the penal statutes have relieved themselves from rigorous application of the maxim ignorantia juri non excusat by making some inroads in its operation for example, the American Model Penal Code 1962; the Draft German Penal code 1962 etc. allow in the indicated circumstances that mistake of law as a good defence.
Mistake of law, as perceived in India, takes into its ambit both mistake as to the existence of any law on a relevant subject, as well as mistake as to what the law is (King Emperor v Tustipada). Mistake of law, even in good faith, is not defence (Mohammad Ali v Sri Ram Swarup) .It will nevertheless, may operate as a mitigating factor. However, if a statute provides that certain knowledge-involving element of law on the part of the accused is an essential ingredients of the offence, mistake of law, in good faith, may be good defence to a charge of criminal offence. Where the law prescribes a particular mode of its publication and that mode is not followed, ignorance of law will be a good defence. But if there is no such special mode of publication prescribed, the publication in the Government Gazette will be deemed to be enough publication to exclude the plea of ignorance of the law.
Ignorance of fact is an excuse as it precludes the accused from forming the required mens rea. It negatives the existence of mens rea. Mistake must be of material facts, i.e. facts essential to constitute the offence allegedly committed by the accused. He must be absolutely ignorant of the real circumstances of the case which makes his act an offence (King Emperor v.Ttustipada).
Where a fact is unknown to the accused, his conduct must not be taken to be the intention with regard to it., for instance, A fires bullet into a bush where, unknown to him, B is hiding and the bullet kills B. It is true that A fired intention into the bush, but he is not liable as he did not fire intentionally at B, there is actus rea but no mens rea. So also, N, a nurse in a hospital, gives P, a patient, a liquid thinking it to be a medicine, in fact; it is poison. N is not guilty of murder, for she did not intend to give poison. However, where the act of the accused is in itself wrong, although not criminal, the ignorance on his part of the circumstances which makes the act criminal is no defence.
Under section 79, IPC, though an act is not justified by law, yet if it is done under the bona fide belief and in good faith that it is justified by law, then it will not be an offence (Deep sahu v Saligram).So when an accused,under a bona fide mistake of fact ,mistook a human being in the jungle as a wild animal at night and killed the person, then the accused was not held liable (State of Orissa v Khora Ghasi).
Ignorantia facti doth excusat, however, is subject to two reservations. First, mistake of fact cannot be successfully pleaded when responsible inquiry would have elicited the true facts. Secondly, it cannot be accepted as a plea, when an actus is made reus without reference to mens rea of the doer.
Ms. Shalini Singh
2nd year, (BBA, LLB.4th semester) 18LW2A1044