Negotiable Instruments: Exhaustive Coverage by Adv Roma Bhagat. Register Now!
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  • Mistake of law and facts are defences that the defendant misunderstood or was ignorant of the law or facts as they existed at the time.
  • A mistake of fact is a factual error.
  • Mistake of law is misunderstanding the law, which is not a valid defence.
  • The clauses "Mistake of Fact" and "Mistake of Law" are explained in Sections 76 and 79 of Chapter IV of IPC (Indian Penal Code 1860).


A mistake is often described as an error that is caused by an unconscious ignorance of a past or present material event or circumstance or a belief in the present existence of a material event that does not exist or a belief in the past existence of a material event that did not exist, rather than by the person committing the error by neglecting a legal duty.

A mistake involving ignorance of the law is known as a “Mistake of law” and a mistake involving ignorance of facts is termed a “Mistake of facts.”

A mistake of facts stands as a valid defence whereas, a mistake of law is not. A mistake of law is not a valid defence as it is expected from every citizen to know and abide by the laws of the land.


According to tort, there are two categories of mistakes that a normal person can make:

  1. Mistake of facts
  2. Mistake of law

In general, a mistake of law is not an excuse for breaking the law. Except for kids, lunatics, and mad persons, it is assumed that everyone knows and understands the law of the nation. Whereas the mistake of facts can be considered as a justified excuse. A mistake of fact may be an exception to the rule, lessening or eliminating the person's obligation. A person's accountability for purposeful errors cannot be avoided. A criminal defendant may claim that he or she had no intention of committing the offence. The illegal conduct that happened as a consequence of a mistake of fact or misunderstanding as the case requires. Such an exemption is only permitted where there is a mistake of fact; nevertheless, a mistake of law is not considered a defence.

The clauses "Mistake of Fact" and "Mistake of Law" are explained in Sections 76 and 79 of Chapter IV of the Indian Penal Code, 1860. The common law maxim "Iqnorantiafacti doth excusat; Ignorantia juris non-excusat" (Ignorance of facts is permissible, but ignorance of the law is not) is the basis for these clauses. In criminal law, a mistake of fact is a good defence, as detailed in Sections 76 and 79 of IPC. Both of these sections are part of the General Exceptions (Chapter-IV).


A Mistake of facts is exactly what it sounds like: a factual error.

For instance, if you are 15 years old but I believe you to be 21, I have committed a factual error. A factual error might be used as a defence.

The maxim 'ignorantiafacti doth excusatignorantia juris non-excusat' is found in section 76 of the Indian Penal Code, and it states that a person who commits an offence in the view of a mistake of fact and in good faith that he was bound by law, will not be considered as an offence.


  1. Under legal obligation or order from the government.
  2. He believed he was bound by law
  3. No mistake of law is present
  4. The act was done in good faith.

The term “good faith” has been defined in Section 52 IPC which provides “Nothing is said to be done or believed in good faith which is done or believed without due care and attention"



In this example, a widower with an axe and his kid went into the woods to collect 'siadi' leaves. His nephew noticed the accused sleeping under the tree and the child disappeared after some time. The youngster was later discovered dead. It was established in evidence that the accused was in a state of mind in which he imagined a tiger was about to attack him, and that he murdered his son by mistake, mistaking him for the tiger. The court determined that he was not liable because of a mistake of fact. He had no desire to murder his son.


While defending his land, the accused fired an arrow at a moving object, believing it to be a bear. However, the shot resulted in the death of a human. He was granted immunity in this case due to a mistake of fact.

DHAKI SINGH VS. STATE [AIR 1955 All 379 case]

The accused shot an innocent person because he mistook him for a thief. It was held that despite the fact that he believed that he could catch the thief, he was not in a position to detain him for which he fired at the deceased. The court concluded that the accused cannot avail the defence of mistake of facts as his act was not justified in any way.

R VS PRINCE[(1875) LR 2 CCR 154]

R v. Princewas an English case that held that the mensrearequired for criminal liability should be sine qua non only for the elements central to the wrongfulness of the act and that strict liability should apply to the remaining elements of the statute, such as the abductee's age being irrelevant.

R Vs. TOLSON[(1889) 23 QBD 168]

In the instant case, the defendant proceeded with a new marital contract entirely on the assumption that because there had been an unfortunate accident at sea, her spouse had drowned in the debris. This is when the law inquiries about the reason for entering into another martial contract. In this case, regardless of the moral principles on which the defendant's decision was based, the defendant's mental condition affected the decision. As a result, the defendant was charged with an offence concerning a person's actions.

SHERRAS V DE RUTZEN[(1895) 1 QB 918]

In this instance, the defendant's conviction was overturned by the court. Despite the fact that the act that created it made no mention of mens rea, the offence required knowledge. The court went on to say that while there is a presumption that mens rea, or an evil intent, or knowledge of the wrongfulness of an act, is an essential ingredient in every crime, that presumption is susceptible to being displaced either by the words of the statute creating the crime or by the subject-matter with which it deals, and both must be considered.


"Mistake of law" was defined as an "error as to the presence or otherwise of any law on a specific issue as well as a mistake as to what law is" in The King v. Tustipada Mandal. Section 76 was held to be based on the principle ofignorantia juris non-excusat. This rule was founded on the fact that "every man is considered to know the law," according to another rule of proof.

R Vs. WHEAT AND STOCK([1921] 2 K. B. 119)

In this instance, the accused/uneducated guy handed his case over to his lawyer in order to divorce his first wife. He was convinced that as soon as he handed his case over to his lawyer, he would be divorced from his first wife. He married another woman in good faith, believing it to be true. He was prosecuted by his first wife. He said that he did not understand the legal procedure and that he assumed he had received the divorce and that he had married another woman with good intentions. The Court rejected his explanation and found him guilty of bigamy, stating that a reasonable belief in the dissolution of marriage would not be a defence to the accusation of bigamy unless the divorce was achieved.


In this case, the accused was found not guilty of unlawful killing after falsely assuming a woman (a friend of his servant) hiding behind a curtain in his residence was a burglar. It was decided that the case was a 'pure error,' because whatever the accused did was done inadvertently, with no aim of murdering the woman, but rather the burglar.


When an offence is genuinely justified by law or to be committed by bona fide, the same is to be excused by a mistake of fact and Section 79 does not consider as an offence.



In the case of Raj Kapoor v. Laxman, the plaintiff was Raj Kapoor. According to J. Krishna Iyer, "a banned conduct may not signal inescapable guilt if the law says that it is not to be treated as an infraction under particular conditions."


The Honourable High Court decided that the respondent was protected under section 79 of the IPC since it could be reasonably inferred that the respondent believed he was assaulting ghosts and behaved in good faith while attacking the ladies. The court, further, concluded that the mere fact that the occurrence could have been avoided if the respondent had acted with greater care and attention is not an acceptable reason to deny him protection under section 79 of the IPC. The Court upheld the Learned Sessions Judge's decision confirming the decree of acquittal and dismissing the appeal.


The court found in Keso Sahu and Ors. v. Saligram Shah that the accused demonstrated that he took the cart and Cartman to the police station in good faith and belief that the plaintiff's residence was being used for smuggling rice. The suspicion was shown to be incorrect. The accused has the defence of error of fact because he committed the act in good faith, thinking it to be legal.


When a person commits a tort and claims a Mistake of the law as a defence, this is considered as an invalid defence. The court believes that everyone knows the law of the nation, which is why a Mistake of Law is not regarded as a valid defence in the IPC or in tort. A legal mistake is not considered as a defence.

For instance, I commit murder and claim that I don’t know murder is a crime.The same claim is considered invalid, as every person is expected to know the “law of the land”.

“Ignorantia Juris neminemexcusat”, which means that not knowing the law is not an excuse. The legal notion of a mistake of law refers to one or more errors committed by an individual in interpreting the application of law to their prior conduct that is being investigated by the court.


GRANT V. BORG[1982 (1) W.L.R 638 ]

In this case, the individual was prosecuted under the Immigration Act of 1971 for exceeding the leave's time restriction. He is not allowed to use the defence of mistake of law in this case.

MOHAMMAD ALI VS. SRI RAM SWARUP[AIR 1965 All 161, 1965 CriLJ 413]

Ram Swarup was a head constable and had arrested Mohammad Ali. Mohammad filed a case against Swarup stating that he had falsely arrested him. It was seen that Swarup had arrested him without particular reasons and had kept himin unlawful detention. It was stated in the above-mentioned case that ignorance of law even in good faith is not justified.


A mistake of law can be used as a defence to criminal charges in a few extremely restricted instances. A legal error can be used as a defence in the following situations:

  • When the legislation isn't made public;
  • When you relied on a law that was later declared unlawful or revoked;
  • When you had to rely on a court ruling;
  • When you relied on a qualified official's interpretation;

In most states, one must be able to justify reliance on any of the above-mentioned sources to seek defence under a mistake of law.


A mistake of fact can be used as a defence to avoid liability by pleading no Mensrea; however, it must be true, reasonable, and authentic in character. On the other hand, a mistake of law is no excuse in general. Except for kids, lunatics, and mad persons, it is assumed that everyone knows and understands the law of the nation. This rule has a few more uncommon exceptions. On the other hand, if a person commits an act that he honestly believes is legal, a mistake of fact can be used as a defence.

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