Penal Law: Meaning and Definition

The functions of a modern state to defend law-abiding, peaceful individuals against anything that disrupts the smooth operation of the social and economic life of the nation are the most crucial aspects in this work. Penal Law is separated into procedural law and substantive law. India's primary penal code is the Indian Penal Code, 1860 which lists offences and penalties, is the fundamental body of substantive law. Inadequately carrying out this duty may result in anarchy and halt the expansion of economic activity.

What is the meaning of Penal Law?

Penal law refers to statutes created and implemented by the state in its own name that inflict penalties for state-prohibited behaviour. It is a set of regulations that deters behaviour that can threaten the public's safety and welfare by punishing offenders.

The basic and major goal of penal law is to maintain public order and protect society from anti-social behaviour by prescribing standards of conduct and punishing those who disobey the law through a "fair trial." A "fair trial" must so accomplish two goals −

  • It must be fair to the accused, and

  • It must also be fair to the victim.

Functions of Penal Law

Penal law serves several functions and benefits society in the ways listed below −

  • Settling disagreements − The legislation allows for the resolution of disagreements and disputes between residents. It allows for the calm and orderly resolution of concerns.

  • Protection to Individual − Penal law protects individuals from criminals who would cause physical damage to others or steal their propert.

  • Ensures smooth functioning of society − The use of penal law allows the government to collect taxes, manage pollution, and do other socially useful duties.

  • Preserve order − Penal law offers consistency, helping individuals know what to anticipate from others. There would be chaos and confusion if criminal law did not exist.

  • Protecting civil rights − Individual rights are protected by penal laws.

Penal Liability

Liable means an exposed to a contingency or casualty, under a duty, subject to punishment, accountable in law, etc. Hence, "liability" refers to the "duty to perform a certain act." Liability, as used in law, refers to the state of things that results in a duty to do certain action. The aforementioned word refers to all forms of punishment that a person may get under criminal law for breaking the law of the state. Therefore, it can be classified into the following parts −

Individual liability

The main rule of penal law is that a person is responsible for everything they did or didn't do that they should have known better than to do. A person is therefore responsible for his own actions and inactions. The maxim commonly used in tort law, qui facit via alium facit per se (he who acts through another acts for himself), does not apply to criminal law.

Vicarious liability

Everyone is often responsible for their own actions and negligence. This is especially true of criminal or monetary responsibility. A person is not responsible for the actions (or inactions) of others. Yet, this rule is not unbreakable. In some circumstances, the IPC holds a person vicariously accountable for the actions of others. So, the individual who was not directly involved in the commission of the crime may also be held vicariously accountable where an offence is done in furtherance of a common intention, with a common aim, in criminal conspiracy, etc. or if there is abetment.

Strict liability

Strict liability is an exception to the generalisation that one must be culpable of an act in order to be held accountable for it. The lack of a guilty mentality has no bearing on it since it is absolute. For instance, even if someone did not intend to cause a public nuisance, they must still be held accountable.

Remedies Available under Penal Laws

The following are the remedies available −

Right to Defend

Every accused person is deemed innocent until and unless proven guilty, which is the core tenet of criminal justice. According to the Indian Constitution, each defendant in a criminal proceeding is entitled to choose their own solicitor. The State must offer free legal aid to the accused if they are unable to hire a solicitor. The accused has been granted a number of rights during the investigation, enquiry, and trial.

Speedy Trial

A quick and efficient criminal trial is a necessary component of the administration of criminal justice and a component of the right to life protected by Article 21 of the Indian Constitution. Criminal Procedure Code, 1973, Section 309, requires that every investigation or trial be conducted as quickly as feasible. The Amendment Act, zoo8, stipulates that the trial must be finished within two months of the start date. A criminal trial should be handled speedily, and the matter must be concluded quickly, the Supreme Court has ruled in a number of cases. Yet, there is no upper limit that may be set for when criminal proceedings must be over.

General Exception Available under Penal Laws

The general exceptions available under the penal laws are found in Sections 76 to 106 of the Indian Penal Code, 1860. Under such circumstances, an "offence" later converts or becomes a "non-offence" due to these common exclusions. The general criteria of non-imputability are therefore broad exceptions. The chapter is significant since it oversees all laws defining different Code offences.

The following are the circumstances that lead to an exception to the general rule of offence −

  • Mistake (Section 76 – 79)

  • Judicial Acts (Section 77 – 78)

  • Accident (Section 80)

  • Necessity (Section 81)

  • Infancy (Section 82 - 83)

  • Insanity (Section 84)

  • Intoxication (Section 85 – 86)

  • Consent (Section 87 – 91)

  • Good faith (Section 88 – 93)

  • Compulsion or threat (Section 94)

  • Trivial Acts (Section 95)

  • Right of private defence (Section 96-106)


A state may use the term "crime" to refer to any illegal conduct. Each and every country have penal code which defines it, and the state has the authority to severely restrict someone's freedom for committing a crime. The act must be done with the "intention to conduct anything unlawful" in order to be considered the act as criminal. The breaches of private law are not automatically penalised by the state, but can be enforced through civil action. Therefore, penal laws are inferred only when there is violation of right.

Frequently Asked Questions

Q1. What are the major kinds of punishments in the Indian Penal Code?

Ans. The five kinds of punishment are: death penalty, life imprisonment, imprisonment, forfeiture of property, and solitary confinement.

Q2. What is meant by penal laws?

Ans.All the legislation pertaining to crime and punishment is contained in a country's penal laws.

Q3. Are penal laws civil or criminal?

Ans. The formal code governing penal law in India is known as the Indian Penal Code (IPC). The Indian Penal Code is the substantive law. All offences that are classified as crimes in India are listed in this Code.

Updated on: 14-Apr-2023


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