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Ignorantia juris non excusat

Ignorantia juris non excusat

Literal Meaning: Ignorance of the Law is no excuse.

Origin: Roman Law

Explanation

It should be noted that ignorance of the law is not an excuse, but ignorance of the facts is. It is widely acknowledged that the maxim ‘Ignorantia juris non excusat’ is originated in Roman times, and Justinian’s Code both make explicit reference to this legal maxim. It states that while ignorance of the law is not excused, ignorance of the facts is. Since English law is widely known to have its roots in Roman law, it stands to reason that its traces also found their way into English Common law.

This is the fundamental principle of legal philosophy. According to the maxim, it states that individuals are expected to be aware of the law, and being ignorant of the law doesn’t absolve them from their responsibility or punishment.

Objective or Purpose

  • Maintenance of Legal Order: This maxim contributes to the preservation of social and legal order by ensuring that all members of society are subject to the same regulations. Such uniformity in regulation helps to prevent any type of chaos.
  • Legal Awareness: This maxim focuses on educating oneself about legal development including legal requirements and responsibilities by holding individuals accountable for ignorance.
  • Prevention of Abuse: By holding individual accountable for the ignorance of law, it promotes integrity and effectiveness in the legal system.

Benefits of Ignorntia Juris non-excusat

  • Accountability: The maxim holds individuals accountable for their actions, thereby promoting adherence to law in the society.
  • Equality: This maxim gives emphasis on the principle of equity and social justice through the uniform application of legal principles and laws.
  • Efficient Judicial Process: By rejecting ignorance as a defense, the legal system streamlines judicial proceedings. Courts are not required to evaluate an individual’s knowledge of the law, making the adjudication process more efficient.

Criticism of Ignorantia Juris non excusat

  • Complex Legal Principles: It is unrealistic that one should have a complete knowledge of all the law of the country. The languages used are so complex that a layman could find difficulty in its understanding. Thus, this will be a major drawback for illiterate or poor people of the society.
  • Evolving Legal Principles: As law is dynamic and is subject to change due to change in societal norms and attitude. Thus, this poses a major concern about the fairness of holding individuals responsible for laws that they may not have had a reasonable knowledge of.

Illustration

Let’s assume A driver of a small town drives to a big city where wearing of helmet and other traffic regulations are mandatory. The individual drove without a helmet and thereby was held by police and was fined. Here the individual cannot take defence of not knowing about the traffic regulations as Ignorantia Juris non excusat (Ignorance of law is not an excuse)

Case Law

  • State of Maharashtra v. Mayer Hans George (1965): The accused was found to be ignorant of the Foreign Exchange Regulation Act, of 1947. The Supreme Court dismissed the defence of not knowing the law, stating that people are expected to be aware of the law and cannot avoid responsibility by saying they didn’t know.
  • State of Rajasthan v. Jaipur Hosiery Mills (1971)

    : The respondent claimed to be ignorant of the sales tax obligation imposed by the State. The Apex Court gives emphasis on this maxim and held that ignorance of tax laws does not exempt businesses from compliance.

  • Kartar Singh v. State of Punjab (1994): The case primarily dealt with the constitutionality of Terrorist and Disruptive Activities (Prevention) Act, 1987 (TADA). But the appellant’s claim of being ignorant of penalties under the act attracts this case on reinforcing this legal maxim of Ignorntia Juris non excusat.

Also Read: Animus Nocendi

Sarita Gupta
Sarita Gupta
I graduated and secured Third Rank under my University. Currently, I am pursuing my post graduation in Law with dual specialization in Constitutional Law and Cyber Law.
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