Home Law Notes Legal Maxims What is the meaning of legal maxim ‘IGNORANTIA FACTI EXCUSAT, IGNORANTIA JURIS...




There are many kinds of languages spoken in the world like Hindi, German, Spanish, Arabic, Latin, English and many more. we often use these kinds of languages and sometimes mix them up, but when it comes to the law, then there is also some language that ordinary people do not understand, that is called legal maxims. A maxim is a proposition to be of all men confessed and granted without proof, argument, or discourse. It is a type of saying or a short statement that contains a general truth or rule of conduct. It is a single rule or quote that simply put a thought about life, situation etc., It helps in characterizing characters. Philosophers, writer, artists, lawyers, judges, and individuals use such sentences in their respective fields. Here we will see fact and example of- Ignorantia facti excusat, ignorantia Juris non-excusat.


Where the east is, the west will be there. it means an opposite object always be there. So, where the knowledge exists the ignorance will also exist there. Ignorantia facti excusat is a Latin maxim means ignorance of a fact or mistake of a fact is an excuse. It is applicable to civil as well as criminal jurisprudence. It says that ignorance will be considered as an excuse if a person charged with an offence can claim that he/she is unaware of the fact. Ignorantia has been translated both as ignorance and mistake, these terms are used interchangeably. According to this maxim, a person will exclude from a criminal and a civil liability when they are ignorant of the existence of the relevant fact or commit a wrongful act which he neither could foresee nor intended the unlawful consequences. One who commits any wrong under a mistake of fact has a defence because he has insufficient data for reasoning. There is no difference between ignorance of fact and mistake of fact. If the defendant is unaware of the existence of a fact, then his\her liability will either not arise or will be reduced.

Indian Penal Code, 1860 describes this as Nothing is an offense which is done by a person who is, or who by reason of a mistake of fact and not by reason of a mistake of law in good faith believes himself to be, bound by law to do it.

For example, A sees Z commit what appears to A to be a murder. A, in the exercise, to the best of his judgment exerted in good faith, seizes Z, to bring Z before the proper authorities. A has committed no offence because he was acting in a mistake of fact, though it may turn out that Z was acting in self-defence. This can be understood better with the help of this case, in State of Orrisa v. Khora Ghasi, The accused while guarding his field shot an arrow on the moving object in a good faith that it was a bear, but the shot results in the death of a person. But the court made him free from any liability and he got the immunity under the mistake of fact. In The Indian Contract Act, 1872, a contract is said to be void when both the parties to the agreement are under a mistake as to a matter of fact.


We have various types of law like family, civil, criminal, contract and so on. It is well known that if anyone ignores any of these laws he/she shall be held liable. This concept is explained by the maxim ignorantia juris non excusat. It is a Latin maxim meaning ignorance of law or lack of knowledge or mistake of law about legal requirement is not an excuse and hence liability arises in such cases. Ignorance of law means lack of knowledge of those laws which a person has to know irrespective of whether he knows the whole fact or not. These mistakes are of two types, the mistake can be either the mistake of Indian laws or foreign laws. If the mistake is of Indian laws, then the ignorance of the law is not an excuse. This means the party cannot claim that they were unaware of the law. However, ignorance of foreign law is not given a similar treatment. The purpose of this maxim is that if a person charged with any civil or criminal offence, she/he cannot claim that she/he is unaware of the law and avoid the liability. If the maxim is relaxed, then every accused may take the plea that there was no knowledge of the law on his/her part. hence it will become almost impossible for the prosecution to prove them wrong. In an illustration, A, a foreigner, kills an elephant in India. He believes that killing an elephant to be lawful in India. ‘A’ is guilty of killing an elephant. He can’t take the defence that he was unaware of the law.

Mistake of Law as recognized in India

As we know that India was a country that was under British rule for almost 200 years and has adopted the British laws that suit the Indian conditions and culture. during the British rule, Indian courts were applying the English common law to settle disputes and thus so far as the maxim is concerned to apply the same.

The maxim was considered by the Court in the case of Mohammad Ali v. Sri Ram Swarup, it was held that mistake or ignorance of law, even in good faith, is not a defence. It, nevertheless, may operate as a mitigating factor. And the arrest of a person without a warrant not justified.

A plain reading of sections 76 and 79 in the Indian Penal Code, 1860, with special attention to the words ‘who by reason of a mistake of fact and not by reason of a mistake of law in good faith believes’ appearing therein, shows us that the protection of the sections applies only to mistake of fact and not to mistake of law. For example, if a man is caught by a ticket conductor for travelling on a train without a ticket. He cannot claim that he was not aware that a ticket is required while travelling on the train and shall be punished under Section 138 of The Indian Railways Act, 1989.

The Indian Contract Act, 1872, describes the maxim as, a contract cannot be said to be voidable due to the mistake of the parties in understanding any laws that are in force in India. Hence the parties to the contract cannot claim relief on the grounds that they were unaware of the Indian law. For example, Company A agrees to sell Company B 200 cans of a certain mixture containing 45% Sulphuric acid. The law of the country had banned the purchase and sale of mixtures containing more than 30% Sulphuric acid. This is considered to be a mistake of law and therefore the contract is said to void.


It can be concluded from the above discussion that, the first part of the maxim “Ignorantia facti excusat’’ talks that the people will not be considerd to be a wrongdoer if he/she did any wrong by mistake of fact but the second part “ignorantia juris non excusat” warns the people who break the law will be punished whether they were aware of this law or not. it is for the larger public good, which allows the effective administration of justice. So, the literal meaning of this- If the heir is ignorant of the death of his ancestor, he is ignorant of a fact, but if being aware of the death and his relationship, he is ignorant that certain rights have thereby become vested in himself, it is ignorant of the law.


1. Nancy Garg, available from https://www.legalbites.in/law-notes-ipc-excusable-general-exceptions/

2. Available from https://www.pathlegal.in/Mistake-of-law-Vs-mistake-of-fact-in-the-Indian-IPC-blog-1290673

3. Srishti Chawla, Mistake of Fact and Mistake of Law under The Indian Contract Act,1872, https://blog.ipleaders.in/mistake-of-fact-and-mistake-of-law-under-the-indian-contract-act1872/

4. Available from https://blog.ipleaders.in/mistake-of-fact-and-mistake-of-law-under-the-indian-contract-act1872/

5. Krishnendra Joshi, The Mistake of Fact and Mistake of Law as a Defence, available from https://blog.ipleaders.in/mistake-fact-mistake-law-defence/