Monday, June 17, 2024

Can you plead not guilty due to not knowing the law?


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You can’t plead you are innocent and not guilty due to ignorance of the law or new law. Because, “Ignorantia Juris non-excusat” is a Latin legal maxim, which in English, ignorance of the law is no excuse.

The Bible in Leviticus 5:17 states that: “Still, indeed though he doesn’t know it, he’s shamefaced and will be held responsible, If a person sins and does what’s interdicted in any of the LORD’s commands.” 

Various scholars of law have defined law from different angles. Some have defined it based on its nature. Some concentrate mainly on their sources. Others define it in terms of its effect on society.

Dr. W. Friedmann writes in his book, all systematic thinking about legal theory is linked at one end with philosophy and the other end, with political theory.

What is Law?

“Law is the king of all mortal and immortal affairs, which ought to be the chief, the ruler and the leader of the noble and the base and thus the standard of what is just and unjust, the commander to animals naturally social of what they should do, the forbidder of what they should not do.” – according to legal jurist Justinian.

And also many legal jurist and philosopher give their own opinion about Law and Justice. More from the definition, there is no chance to say, you can plead not guilty due to ignorance of the law.

Legal Presumption on not guilty

A Legal presumption is a rule of law by which courts and judges draw a particular inference from particular facts or particular evidence unless and until the truth of that inference is disproved.

One fact is recognized by law as sufficient proof of another fact, whether it is in truth sufficient for the purpose or not.

A notification in the official gazette is presumed by law to have been duly signed by the person by whom it is purported to have been signed.

The person concerned may have signed or may not have been signed.

However, the fact of notification is considered by law to be sufficient proof of the fact of the signature.

You can’t plead not guilty due to ignorance of law because the maxim of legal presumption specifically states that, a Legal presumption is a rule of law by which courts and judges draw a particular inference from particular facts or particular evidence.

Must have legal duties and good faith but not guilty mind

Good faith means a thing shall be deemed to be done in good faith, where it is done honesty without any intention to defraud another person, whether it is done negligently or not.

Also, legal duties are two kinds, legal and moral. A legal duty is an act the opposite of which is a legal wrong. It is an act recognized as a duty by the law and treated as such for the administration of justice.

A moral or natural duty is an act the opposite of which is a moral or natural wrong.

A duty may be moral but not legal, or legal but not moral, or both at once.

In the case of England, there is a legal duty not to sell or have for sale adulterated milk knowingly. There is no legal duty in England to refrain from offensive curiosity about one’s neighbors even if its satisfaction does them harm.

There is a moral duty but not a legal duty. There is both a legal and moral duty not to steal.

So we can say that it is foolish to talk about remission of crime because you do not know the law. Rather, the offense may be forgiven if it is an act committed in good faith or out of moral responsibility. 

Ignorance of the law is no defense

The doctrine explains that if ignorance were a reason, a person charged with felonious offenses or a subject of a civil action would simply claim that bone was ignorant of the law in question to avoid liability, indeed if that person does know what the law in question is. 

Therefore, the law imputes knowledge of all laws to all persons within the government no matter how transiently. 

Indeed though it would be insolvable, indeed for someone with substantial legal training, to be apprehensive of every law in operation in every aspect of a state’s conditioning, this is the price paid to ensure that willful blindness can not come the base of vindication. 

Therefore, it’s well settled that persons engaged in any undertakings outside what’s common for a normal person will make themselves apprehensive of the laws necessary to engage in that undertaking.

However, they can not complain if they dodge liability If they do not.  

The doctrine assumes that the law in question has been duly announced published and distributed, for illustration, by being published in a government review, made available over the internet, or published in volumes available for trade to the public at affordable prices. 

A law can bind only when it’s nicely possible for those to whom it applies to acquire knowledge of it to observe it, indeed if factual knowledge of the law is absent for a particular existent. 

Secret law is no law at all. 

In felonious law, although ignorance may not clear a defendant of guilt, it can be a consideration in sentencing, particularly where the law is unclear or the defendant sought advice from law enforcement or nonsupervisory officers. 

For illustration, in one Canadian case, a person was charged with having gambling bias after they had been advised by customs officers that it was legal to import a similar bias into Canada. (4) Although the defendant was condemned, the judgment was an absolute discharge. 

In addition, there were, particularly in the days before satellite communication and cellular phones, persons who could authentically be ignorant of the law due to distance or insulation. 

For illustration, in a case in British Columbia, a brace of nimrods were acquitted of game offenses where the law was changed during the period they were in the nature stalking. 

In reaching this decision, the court refused to follow an early English law case in which a shipman on a clipper before the invention of the radio was condemned indeed though the law had been changed while he was at the ocean. 

Although ignorance of the law, like other miscalculations of law, isn’t a defense, a mistake of fact may well be, depending on the circumstances that are, the false but unfeignedly held belief in a factual state of affairs which, had it been the case, would have made the conduct innocent in law.


According to Sir John Salmond, “An obligation, therefore, may be defined as a proprietary right in personam or a duty which corresponds to such a right.”

Obligations are merely one class of duties, namely, those which are the correlatives of rights in personam.

An obligation is the vinculum Juris, or bond of legal necessity, which binds together two or more determinate individuals.

In the first line of this article, I said that you can’t plead innocence or not guilty due to ignorance of the law. Legal jurisprudence and basic law define that, ignorance of the law is no excuse.


  • V.D Mahajan’s, ‘Jurisprudence & Legal Theory’ Eastern Book Company.
  • Hossain Mohammad Reza, ‘English For Law’ Sufi prokashoni.
  • MD. Abdul Halim, ‘The Legal System of Bangladesh’ CCB Foundation.
Advocate Shipta Barua
Advocate Shipta Barua
Currently working as a Criminal Lawyer in Cox's Bazar Sessions Court, as well as legal consultant at Legal Home to provide legal assistance to common people. Moreover, involved in various social activities through the organization Gyananneshon. He completed LL.B (Hons) and LL.M in Law and Justice. Special interest in maritime law, environmental law and criminology.



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