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This article is written by Arya Mishra, a student of Banasthali Vidyapith, Jaipur. This article talks about character, reputation and disposition in the Evidence Act.


Character evidence plays a very important role in almost every jurisdiction. For centuries, the character of a person is used in order to determine his guilt. The application of Character evidence to civil and criminal cases has become limited because of the evolution in the law over the years. The character of a person depicts his past actions. In our day to day life a person’s character plays a very important role because the action and reaction of a person depends upon his behaviour and his behaviour defines his character. While talking about character evidence, mainly two questions arise: Firstly, whether the character of person is relevant, and it is relevant then on what grounds it is relevant. Secondly, how to prove that why such character becomes relevant. Despite the answer of these questions, this article also seeks to find out how such character evidence is appreciated. 

Any proof which however not associated with the reality in issue but rather is generally pertinent to demonstrate the presence of something which is important to the reality in the issue must be considered as applicable which in legal language is known as circumstantial proof. The previously mentioned confirmations can be additionally subdivided as: 

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(a) Lawful Evidence (law completely assembled proof). 

(b) Unlawful Evidence which has been assembled by unlawful methods for instance rupture of basic rights allowed to its residents by the Indian Constitution or by resisting certain shields to be obeyed by law-authorizing organizations for gathering of proof, for example, has been portrayed under the NDPS Act. Admissible Evidence, accordingly, is proof which considers all the abovementioned and which courts and legal fora get and consider the motivations behind choosing a specific case.


The character of a person can be determined as a summary of his past actions. The Indian and the  English law does not have any well defined and proper definition of character. Similarly, this word is not well defined in the evidence act but this act attempts to define the word character under Section 55 as : The word character includes both disposition as well as reputation. The words disposition and reputation are however not same, they are quite different. According to Webster, “the word character is a combination of the peculiar qualities impressed by nature or by habit of a person which differentiates him from others.”  Character can be meant as the collective qualities of a person especially mental and moral which distinguishes a person from rest of the world. Character of a person is the estimation of a person by his community. 


According to Webster, “Reputation is can be called as a good name or it is the common or general estimation of a person with respect to his character and other qualities. According to Woodroffe “ Reputation is what others think about a person and it is constituted by public opinion. It is that credit score which a man has obtained in that opinion.” 

Reputation and character are not synonyms. Where character is what the morals of a person, Reputation on the other hand is the estimation of a person’s character by the community. 


Disposition can be defined as a natural tendency and a person’s temperament. It is that prevailing spirit of the mind which results from the constitution. It can be the tendency or aptitude of character. The examples of disposition are the Character certificates given by the employer or by the head of the institutions. Disposition is permanent and it respects the whole frame and texture of the mind. 

As reputation, disposition and character are also not similar. Where character is the social estimate form of a man, disposition is the aptitude or tendency of a person’s character. 

Distinction Between Character, Disposition and Reputation




It means the peculiar qualities of a person.

It means the inherent qualities of a person. 

It means the general credit of the person among the public. 

It is the estimation of a person by his community.  

Disposition means what a person is in reality. 

Reputation of a person is that what other people think about him. 

The word character includes both reputation and disposition.

In reality a well reputed man may have bad disposition. 

Reputation cannot depend upon disposition. 

Character of a person.

The disposition of a person may depend upon traits, whether bad or good. 

General reputation of a person is a sort of common adjective to all. 

Relevancy of Character in Civil Cases with Provision

In civil cases, the general rule is that the character of a person is unable to predict the conduct of that person. Thus, in civil law the general rule is that a person cannot show the certificate of his good character in order to save himself from the charge that is against him. This principle was laid down in the case of Attorney General v. Bowman, in which the defendant was charged for keeping false weights and for offering bribe to a corrupt officer. He called a man as a witness in order to prove that he is a man of good character and conduct and he cannot do such a wrongful act. But his evidence was rejected on the grounds that it was not a direct case of prosecution but it was a case for penalty. 

Relevancy of Character in Criminal Cases with Provision

In Section 53 of the Indian Evidence Act, the fact that the character of the accused who is guilty in criminal cases is good is relevant. Section 53A has been brought into the act by an amendment done in 2013. The need of this amendment arises because of the growing crimes of committing rape which arose the need for some changes in the Indian Penal Code, Criminal Procedure Code and the Indian Evidence Act. Section 53A is that section which somehow protects the victim of rape. 

This section applies to the prosecutions of offences under Section 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.
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The Provisions of this section applies even when someone tries to commit such offences. According to this Section, the evidence of good character of a person is irrelevant if he is charged for committing any sexual offence. 

According to Section 54, the evidence of bad character cannot be used by the prosecution as a proof for committing the crime. They can use the evidence of bad character of the person only in reply to rebut when the victim provides the evidence of his good character. But this provision also contains the following two provisions: 

Exception 1: According to this, the above mentioned section cannot be applied in the case where the fact of the case is based on the bad character of a person. The example of this situation can be a divorce case in which the fact of filing the case of divorce by the wife is the cruel nature of his husband. In such type of cases, the main issue is the character of the person and hence this section will not apply there. 

Exception 2: According to this exception, a person who is convicted earlier for an offence then that fact of his previous conviction is relevant for becoming an evidence of bad character and an exception for this section. 

According to the principle laid down in Section 55, if the character of a person affects the amount of damages he is entitled to get then the evidence of Character becomes important in this case. 

Where the evidence of bad character of the plaintiff may be given so as to mitigate the extent of damages, the evidence of good character cannot be given so as to increase the extent of liability. This mostly happens in the cases of defamation where the reputation of one person is injured by any other person and the character of person acts as a basis for calculating the quantum of damages. 

Distinction Between Relevancy of character in Criminal and Civil Cases 

According to Section 52 of the Indian Evidence Act, the evidence of good character is irrelevant in most of the criminal cases and it is relevant in only some particular cases.  The reason behind the acceptance of character as an evidence in criminal cases is that they do not indulge the moral conduct of a person. Thus, the evidence of previous conduct is irrelevant. Whereas in civil cases, such as cruelty, negligence or assault the evidence of good or bad character is relevant in the particular case. Thus, the evidence of character is relevant in civil cases but only under some specific circumstances. 

In the cases of defamation, the evidence of character is of prime importance as the parties to the case alleges each other’s character as well as they allege that they spoiled their reputation in public. In the case of B. Vasanthi v. Bakthavatchalu, the issue was the custody of a minor child between the parents who took divorce. The wife in this case alleges that her husband comes home drunk daily and he has an affair with a girl whom he used to bring at home. Moreover, she alleged that he discontinued the education of their daughter. The husband denied the allegations put by her wife and further alleged that she has an affair with a man and he didn’t discontinued the education of their daughter rather she makes her daughter to deliver the letters to the men rather than sending her to the school and her influence is bad on their children. Thus, in this case the character of both the persons becomes relevant as a matter of fact so as to decide that in whose custody the best interest of the minor lies. 

Previous Bad Character in Criminal Cases

It has been seen that the evidence of good character of a person is relevant in most of the cases. But this is not so with the general evidence of bad character. In criminal proceeding the fact of bad character of a person is not relevant and hence it cannot be proved. But there are certain circumstances in which the previous bad character of the accused becomes relevant in criminal proceedings.

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

  1. When the accused uses his good character as an evidence in order to prove him innocent then the prosecution can lead the evidence of his bad character. 
  2. Where the fact of issue of the case is the bad character of the accused itself then the evidence of bad character of the accused is considered in the case. For instance, if the accused had committed the similar crime previously then this fact is admissible and will be taken into consideration while deciding the case. Moreover, if the evidence of bad character of a person is introduced in order to establish a relevant fact which cannot be proved alone then that evidence is valid and admissible. 
  3. The evidence of bad character of a person is relevant when the previous conviction of that person is relevant as evidence of bad character. According to Section 71 of the Indian penal code, if in a case it is proved that the accused had committed a crime before then he will be given a much longer term of imprisonment or more punishment than would be ordinary provided to him. 

The evidence that discloses certain unpleasant things about the accused person in the past was also examined by the Court in order to ascertain the motive for the crime land not for the purpose of determining or proving his bad character. 

Character Evidence when Admissible

There are many cases in which the character of a person is a relevant fact in the case. For instance the character of a female chastity has been taken into consideration as an evidence in case of breach of promise for marriage.

Though in a suit , no evidence can be given as to the character of the party, the Court has the power to form his own conclusion as to the character of a party as exhibited from the facts and circumstances of the case and the court may decide the character of the person based on that conclusion and decide whether the accused is guilty or not based on the evidence of his character. 

Character Affecting Damages

According to Section 55 of the Indian Evidence Act, the fact that the good or bad character of any person affects the amount of damages to be provided in civil cases then it is a relevant fact in the case and the evidence of the character of that person will be considered in that case.



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