1. Introduction:.

              The word 'Character' denotes "the collective qualities or characteristics especially mental and moral, that distinguish a person or thing. Character is differs from conduct Conduct is a stray act. it is single act , done on one occasion while character is continuous act and there is repetition of the same act.
  Character is a combination of quality distinguishing a person, the individuality of which is the product of nature, habits and environment. " Is a man honest, is he good-natured, is he of a violent temper, is he modest and retiring or imprudent and forward. These all constitute traits of character."

Definition of Character: 

            The word Character has been defined in Section 55 of the Evidence Act. It includes both reputation and disposition,  but except as provided in Section 54, Evidence may be given only of general reputation and general disposition, and not of particular acts by which reputation or disposition were shown. 

2. Relevancy of Character :

        i) In civil cases -

                          In civil cases character to prove conduct imputed, irrelevant (Section 52)-  Section 52 of the Indian Evidence Act is itself in issue. In civil proceedings, the evidence of good character or bad character is not going to help the court in deciding the matters in issue.
Section 52 runs as follows :

     In civil cases, the fact that the character of any person concerned is such as to render probable or improbably any conduct imputed to him, is irrelevant except in so far as such character appears from facts otherwise relevant.

      In civil proceeding good or bad character is not relevant. e.g. In a suit filed by landlord against a tenant for recovery of the premises on ground of default of payment of rent, if tenant argued that he is religious person and hence the suit be dismissed. His character is irrelevant and the Court will pass eviction order against him, on the ground of default.

    Thus the general principle is that a party that cannot give evidence of his good character for the purpose of showing that it is improbable that he should be guilty of the conduct imputed to him. e.g. if a person is charged with negligent driving, he cannot give evidence of fact of his character and conduct has been such that he could not have been guilty of negligence. Similarly, his opposite party cannot give evidence of the fact that his character and conduct had been so bad that he must have been negligent. The reason is that the Court has to try the case on the basis of its fact for the purpose of determining whether the defendant should be liable or not. the court has not to try the character of the parties.

    Thus, it may be laid down as a general rule that in civil action evidence of character of any person is not admissible for the purpose of raising an interference as to its conduct.

        ii) In criminal cases - 

            In criminal cases previous good character relevant. Section.53 - According to section 53 of the Evidence Act, in criminal proceedings, the fact that the person accused is, of a good character, is relevant. The innocence or criminality of an accused can easily be judged by basing on his character.

Every accused person is at liberty to give evidence of the fact that he is man of good character. The expression, "Good Character" has of course is known significance in relation to evidence upon criminal trials for it denote a description of evidence in disproof of the guilt which an accused person may adduce.

Supreme Court In Habib Mohammad v. State of Hyderabad, AIR 1954 SC 59, that in criminal proceeding a character of a man is often a matter of importance in explaining his conduct and in judging his innocence or criminality.

Evidence of character or previous sexual experience not relevant in certain cases. Section 53A - 

In a prosecution for an offence under section 354, section 354A, section 354B, section 354C, section 354D, section 376, section 376A, section 376B, section 376C, section 376D or section 376E of the Indian Penal Code (45 of 1860) or for attempt to commit any such offence, where the question of consent is in issue, evidence of the character of the victim or of such person's previous sexual experience with any person shall not be relevant on the issue of such consent or the quality of consent.

(Inserted by the Criminal Law (Amendment) Act, 2013, w.e.f. 3-2-2013.)

3. Previous bad character  :

                      In criminal proceedings, the fact that the accused person had a bad character is irrelevant unless evidence has been given that he has a character in which case it becomes relevant.

Explanation 1 – This section does not apply to cases in which the bad character of any person is itself a fact in issue.

Explanation 2 – A previous conviction is relevant as evidence of bad character

 As per this section previous bad character is not relevant but in criminal cases to decide  the quantum past bad character is relevant.When it is proved that he had committed an offence of the same nature in the past, then maximum punishment can be awarded to him, unless evidence is given of his good character.

The previous bad character of the accused in criminal cases is relevant in the following circumstances - 

1) When the accused has adduced evidence that he has been of good character, the prosecution can lead evidence to the effect that he has been a bad character.

 2) Where the bad character of accused itself is a fact in issue, the evidence of bad character of the accused may be given. e.g. under section 110 of Cr.P.C. habitual offender includes offender who id by habit a robber,  house-breaker, or is so desperate and dangerous to the society then the very character of the accused is in question and evidence to that effect is admissible;

3) where the previous conviction is relevant as evidence of bad character, evidence of bad character is relevant.

4) Character affecting damages 

                    In civil cases, the fact that the character of any person is such as to affect the amount of damages which he ought to receive is relevant.

It should be noted that it is only in civil cases that a question of amount of damages to be awarded to the plaintiff is concerned and his character becomes relevant. 

Explanation – In Section 52,53,54 and 55, the word “character” includes both reputation and disposition; but except as provided in Section 54, evidence may be given only a general reputation and general disposition and not of particular acts by which reputation or disposition was shown.
from the above provisions following principles are laid down - 

1) to prove good or bad character , evidence can be given both of reputation and disposition.
2) evidence can be given of previous conviction in proof of bad characters, and 
3) evidence can not  be given of particular fact, but only of general reputation and general disposition were shown. 

5) Relevant Case law 

i) Bhagvan Sawarup V. State of Maharashtra, AIR 1965 SC 682.

                     Supreme court held that character evidence is very weak evidence, it cannot outweigh positive evidence in regard to the guilt of the person. Character will necessarily vary according to circumstances of each case.

ii) D.Shastri Vs. K.B.Sahay 1953. 

                                Patana High Court held that in civil cases, where the question of amount of damages to be awarded to the plaintiff is concerned, that a character of a plaintiff becomes relevant.


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