Mistake of fact and Mistake of law

Mistake of Fact

Mistake and ignorance are the words of ancient mintage and rarely distinguished. Mistake of fact always supposes some error of opinion as to the real facts whereas ignorance of fact may be devoid of error but result in mere want of knowledge your opinion.

  • Mistake simply means error of opinion as to real facts (गलत opinion).
  • Ignorance means lack of knowledge (सच जानने के लिए knowledge की कमी).

For eg. 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 that person, then the accused was held to be not liable.

Bhawoo Jivaji VS. Mulji Dayal 1888 Bombay

The accused, a police constable saw the complainant early in the morning carrying under his arm 3 pieces of clothes. He suspected the clothes to be stolen and therefore question the complainant. Answer given by him were not satisfactory. He also refused to allow the constable to inspect the clothes. The constable whereupon arrested the complainant. The clothes was found not to be stolen and therefore he prosecuted the constable for wrongful restraint and confinement.

The High Court held the conviction of the constable as wrong as he acted under a bona fide belief that he was legally justified in detaining what he suspected to be stolen property.

He was protected because his mistake was related to the fact and was made in good faith.

Section 76 of Indian Penal code protects from Mistake of Facts.

According to this section, nothing is an offence which is done by a person who is or who by reason of a mistake of fact, in good faith believes himself to be bound by law to do it.

It means that if a person by mistake of fact  and in good faith believes that he is bound by law to do any particular act, then the act of that person is not punishable.


Z, a soldier fires on a mob by the order of his superior officer in conformity with the commands of the law. Here he has committed no offence.

R Vs. Prince

Here the accused was charged of unlawfully taking an unmarried girl under the age of 16 years out of the possession and against the will of her father. It was found that the accused bonafide and reasonably believed the girl to be older than 16 years.

The accused mistakenly belief about the age of the girl was held not to be a good defence to an indictment for abduction because he intended to do and did a wrongful or immoral act and not an innocent act.

Following the English decision, the courts in India have acknowledge mistake of fact as a good defence in the case of bigamy and other statutory offences.

State vs. Siddhanath 1956 kerala

An illiterate father who had a vote but ill, ask his son to cast the vote on his behalf. The son was held not guilty of the offence of personation as he honestly believe that does authorised by his father, he could exercise his father’s vote and applied for a voting paper in his father’s name.

Mistake of Law

Mistake of law means a mistake as to the existence or otherwise of any law on a relevant subject as well as a mistake as to what the law is.

A mistake or ignorance of law, whether civil or criminal is no defence in law howsoever genuine it might have been.

Section 79 of Indian Penal Code provides about mistake of law.

According to this section nothing is an offence which is done by any person who is justified by law on who by reason of a mistake of fact in good faith, believes himself to be justified by law in doing it.


A sees Z commits what appears to A to be a murder. In the exercise to the best of his judgement in good faith and of the power which the law gives to all the persons of apprehending murderers in the fact, seize  Z, in order to bring Z before the proper authorities. He has committed no offence though it may turnout that Z was acting in self defence.

State of Maharashtra vs. Mayer Hans George SC 1965

The hon’ble Supreme Court refused to accept the plea of ignorance of the notification issued by the RBI imposing restrictions on the transit of gold to a place outside the territory of India and held the accused, a French national, liable for violating the said notification.

Distinguish between Mistake of fact and Mistake of law

Let’s understand the difference between both of these with the help of an example.

A police officer, who has the right to arrest a person committing a cognizable offence, if he arrest him mistakenly thinking that he has committed murder, when in fact he killed a dacoit in self defence, is not liable for committing the offence of wrongful confinement because his mistake being one of the fact.

On the other hand, if the police officer arrest a person for committing assault which he wrongfully considers a cognizable offence, is liable for wrongful confinement as his mistake being one of the law from which he cannot be excused.

Also Read :

Introduction to IPC

Essential elements of Mens Rea

Dowry Death -Meaning,Legal Provisions,Essentials & Case Laws


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