Relevancy of Character
The word ‘Character’ denotes “the collective qualities or characteristics especially mental and moral that distinguish a person or thing. Character differs from conduct.
And ‘Conduct’ is a stray act, it is a single act, done on one occasion while a character is a continuous act and there is a repetition of the same act.
The character and conduct of people play a very important role in our day to day lives, people act and react and go about their daily lives based on their assumptions of what other people will do. Thus, when a court is asked to judge a person’s conduct on a particular occasion it may become pertinent to question the person’s conduct.
In our law the word Character has no sure meaning, Under Indian Evidence Act, 1872, Explanation under Section 55 defines it as the word “character” 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.
The definition basically constricts down the word character into two things which is reputation and disposition, where the former means the opinion that people, in general, have about someone or something, or how much respect or admiration someone or something receives, based on past behavior or character and the latter means the habitual behaviour of a particular person.
As of the law, the Character evidence is admissible with certain conditions and restrictions.
Disposition is a natural tendency, an inclination; a person‘s temperament. It is the prevailing spirit of mind, resulting from constitution. It is the aptitude or tendency of character.
The word ‘disposition’ is used to give the meaning a tendency to act, think or feel in a particular way. Character certificate given by the employer or character certificate given by the Heads of the Educational Institutions are the good examples of ‘Disposition’. ‘Disposition’ comprehends or springs and motives of action. It is a permanent, settled and respects the whole frame and texture of the mind.
` The disposition is the prevailing spirit of mind, resulting from constitution. It is the aptitude or tendency of character. Character is often used in the sense of the social estimate formed of a man, his reputation for good or bad.
The distinction between reputation and disposition is:
i) Reputation means the general credit of the person among the public but disposition means the inherent qualities of a person.
ii) Reputation is what other people think about him while disposition is what he is in reality.
iii) A man may be reputed to be a good man but in reality he may have a bad disposition.
iv) General reputation is a sort of common adjective to all, while disposition of a man may depend upon many traits, some good and some bad.
As character includes both reputation as well as disposition, character means the general credit of the person in the estimation of others plus the nature and inherent qualities of a person. But disposition of a person can be known only to those persons who are closer to him. A person may have very high reputation but his disposition may be very bad.
“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 violent temper, is he modest and retiring or imprudent forward — These all constitute traits of character.”
Although strictly speaking character is to be distinguished from reputation, yet reputation is more commonly considered as having reference to the dispositions or character of a person. Thus it is said of a person that he bears a good reputation meaning that the person in question has reputation for being a person of good character.
Relevancy of Character Evidence in Civil Cases
Section 52 of Evidence Act, in civil cases, character to prove conduct imputed, irrelevant.
The general rule is that in civil cases, person’s character is irrelevant to show such person’s conduct is predictable or not.
Thus the general principle is that a party cannot give evidence of his good character for the purpose of showing that it is unlikely that he should be guilty of the conduct charged to him.
This principle was laid down in the year 1791 in Attorney General v. Bowman (1791) 2 Bos. & P.532 : 126 E.R. 1423, where the defendant was tried in a penal action, not a criminal prosecution, for keeping false weights and for offering to corrupt an officer. He called a witness to testify that he was a man of good character and conduct.
But EYRE, C.B. refused to admit the evidence as it was a civil suit. It was not a direct prosecution of crime, but only for penalty.
Relevancy of Character Evidence in Criminal Cases
Section 53 In Criminal cases previous good character relevant: As per section 53 of Evidence Act, in criminal cases, the fact that the person accused is of a good character is relevant. Thus, every accused person can give evidence of the fact that he is a man of good character.
Section 53A Evidence of a character of previous sexual experiences not relevant in certain cases.
This section has been brought in by the amendment of 2013. Where the growing crimes of rape necessitated some changes in the Indian Penal Code, 1860, Criminal Procedure Code, 1973 and Indian Evidence Act, 1872.
This section is one such method of protecting the victim of rape.
This section applies to the prosecutions of offences under sections 354 (Assault or criminal force to woman with intent to outrage her modesty), 354A (Sexual harassment and punishment for sexual harassment), 354 B (Assault or use of criminal force to woman with intent to disrobe), 354 C (Voyeurism), 354 D (Stalking), 376 (Rape), 376 A (Intercourse by a man with his wife during separation), 376 B (Intercourse by public servant with woman in his custody), 376 C (Intercourse by superintendent of jail, remand home, etc.), 376 D (Gang Rape), 376 E (Punishment for repeat offenders) of India Penal Code.
This section applies even to attempt to commit such offenses.
This section declares irrelevant the evidence of the character of the victim of rape or her previous sexual experiences with any person, then declares that the evidence of her character or her previous sexual experience with any person is irrelevant on the quality of issue of such consent.
Section 54 Previous bad character not relevant, except in reply.
The section provides that, the prosecution cannot lead with the evidence of the bad character of the accused as a part of the original case, they can produce evidence of bad character only in reply to rebut when the accused produces evidence of his good character.
Explanation 1 states that this section doesn’t apply to the cases where the fact in issue is the bad character of the person.
For example, In case of divorce, wife files case of divorce on the ground of cruelty by husband, in these cases the section doesn’t apply, as the issue is the character of the husband whether he was cruel towards her or not.
Explanation 2 states a previous conviction is relevant as evidence of bad character.
Section 55 Character as to affecting damages
The principle laid down by the section 55 if the character of a person is to affect the amount of damages he should receive the evidence of character becomes relevant.
While evidence of bad character of the plaintiff may be given in order to mitigate the extent of damages, evidence of good character may not be given in order to increase the extent of liability.
This is mostly used in cases of defamation when a person causes injury to another’s reputation and damages are calculated on the basis of the person’s character.
Explanation states that, in sections 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 of general reputation and general disposition, and not of particular acts by which reputation or disposition was shown.
Disposition means to the inherent qualities of a person and the qualities that a person acquires through their upbringing, education or material conditions in life.
Reputation refers to the general estimation with which a person is held. When you say that a person has a reputation you are talking about the general estimation in which a person is held, for example, one may have the reputation of being a liar. So people generally perceives of him is to be a person who tells untruth.
In the case of Scott V. Sampson (1882) 8 QBD 49, held that the word ‘character’ for this purpose is taken to mean a man’s reputation, and the evidence of character was required to be confined only to “general evidence of reputation”.
Evidence of a person’s good or bad character can be given only by those who know him and have had dealings with him, for his character is the esteem in which he is held by others who know him, and are in a position to judge his worth