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By- Parvani Marwah

There is a Latin maxim for this phrase which is- “Ignorantia juris non excusat”. This is one of the most basic and cardinal principles of jurisprudence and law. The phrase “ignorance of law is no excuse” is self explanatory. It means that no person can commit a wrong/offence and later on claim the defence of not being aware about the same. Basically, after committing an act, the concerned person cannot say that they did not know the nature and gravity of the offence for the sole purpose of escaping punishment.

The rationale behind this principle is very simple that nobody can get away after carrying out a sin. If ignorance be allowed as a defence then any person, involved in any kind of civil or criminal matter could easily escape from their liability. The biggest problem relating to such a defence is that it is very difficult to actually assess the credibility of the person, who claims to be unaware of the law. Meaning, even if one knows the law, he or she can easily say that they don’t and nothing could be done about that. This doesn’t mean we all have to be legal experts. It is humanly impossible for everyone to memorize all laws, not even for the lawyers. But ignorance of law doesn’t signify the legal knowledge of the person rather it says that no one can claim the same as a “defence”.

There is a thin line between knowing everything and being well informed (acting sensible) and this particular rule expects a prudent man to understand his roles, duties and responsibilities in a society and be well informed about the basic rights and laws and abide by the same. Also, thinking that person who tries to claim ignorance as a defence can make any kind of difference in their liability or punishment, then that’s a huge mistake. More than anyone else, Judges have been very serious about the practice of abiding by the principles of law and have kept a very tight scrutiny to make sure every single person, whether related to legal system or otherwise, follows this very basic principle. Hence pleading ignorance as a defence is never an option.

This principle has a universal acceptance and standing, i.e. it is not only expected from a prudent man to be aware of the basic wrongs of his own country but also of any and every other country that he visits. He or she cannot escape their liability even beyond borders. This rule stays and moves with them. Though there is no doubt that “intention” of the person is always taken into consideration by the Judges but even then no one can be completely exempted of their punishments (if any).

Well, ignorance is not always a bliss it seems!

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