Legal Maxim

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Literal meaning

Doubtful things should be interpreted in the best way




This maxim is often abbreviated as “to give the benefit of the doubt”. It simply means that, if there is no prima facie or circumstantial evidence to prove a certain act, then before pronouncing the final verdict, facts shall be ascertained beyond a reasonable doubt. It can be understood as “Anyone who can be found guilty of a crime, must also necessarily be capable of being found innocent of it.” Hence, it is iterated by the principle that, prior to adjudication of a matter, it is utmost necessary that circumstances and facts of the case should be crystal clear to validate the judgment; both the sides of the coin shall be analyzed with great care and caution, before reaching a particular decision.

The benefit of doubt refers to the fact that if there is slightest possible doubt as to occurrence or omittance of a particular act, then its exact status shall be inquired by the judges in a matter, before drawing a conclusion. In case, if there persist any doubts as to the actual status of an event, more preference is given to proving the accused as innocent. It is one of the basic principles of the criminal justice system that, “a hundred guilty shall be left free, but not even a single innocent shall be punished.”

It can be said that hearsay evidence is a weak form of evidence and is inadmissible in court, as a matter of fact, that, the testimony of the person can be challenged on the basis of an absence of circumstantial evidence to support his statement. It is, therefore, suggested that prima facie evidence is the true form of evidence and holds great importance under the justice system.

The literal meaning of the maxim suggests that, doubtful things with regards to any offense shall be examined and interpreted in the best possible manner, leaving no room for any further clarification. It is clear from the underlying principle of the maxim that prima facie or circumstantial evidence play a vital role in deciding the liability in a case, and hence, shall be closely and carefully examined by the investigating authorities. Any kind of discrepancy in the crucial process of investigation can lead to disastrous consequences and defeat the ends of justice.

There may be situations where doubtfulness creeps into the facts of a case or where the facts of the case are silent about a particular the event, it is very important that all such doubts be removed and the judge uses his expertise and experience to reach a particular conclusion, after following the proper procedure as observed under the statutes or law of land.

The law strongly opposes hearsay evidence and basis its judgment on things that can be proved, beyond reasonable doubts.


  • For an instance, a person is found with a knife in his hand, at a crime scene and his clothes are covered with bloodstains, then before accusing the said person of murder, there shall be other circumstantial evidence or eye-witness or prima facie case to try the person for the offense of murder.
  • If there is any confusion with regards to the title of the property in a matter relating to Breach of contract of sale or lease or other commercial transactions involving the said the property, the court shall make all possible attempts to clarify any doubts as to material facts of the case, before pronouncing judgment; and the fact which is proved beyond reasonable doubts shall constitute the final facts of the case.

Case laws:

Vinod Kumar Bhutani vs State Thr. Cbi on 28 May 2013

In this case, the learned Trial Court erroneously held that it was the duty of the Appellant to prove consignee’s existence. Relying on Shambu Nath Mehra Vs. State of Ajmer (1956) SCR 1999 it is contended that Section 106 casts the onus to prove the facts especially in the knowledge of the accused. The prosecution cannot investigate half-heartedly, not prove the facts which it could have proved and then shift the onus under Section 106 Evidence Act on the accused.

Also, it was observed that, even if the onus is on the accused, the accused has to prove not beyond reasonable doubt but by the preponderance of probability and the same can be done even by cross-examining the prosecution witnesses.

Hearsay evidence is not a valid form of evidence, on the ground that it is always desirable, in the interest of justice, to get the person, whose statement is relied upon, into court for his examination in a regular way, in order that many possible sources of inaccuracy and untrustworthiness can be brought to light and exposed, if they exist, by the test of cross-examination.

Its tendency to protract legal investigations to an embarrassing and dangerous length, its intrinsic weakness, its incompetence to satisfy the mind of a judge about the existence of a fact, and the fraud which maybe practiced with impunity, under its cover, combine to support the rule that hearsay evidence is inadmissible in court.

The burden of proof plays a significant role in the effective and speedy trial.

This Maxim has been written and submitted by Ms. Mansi Batra during her course of internship at B&B Associates LLP. Ms. Mansi is a third-year law student at the Fairfield Institute of Management and Technology, Kapashera, New Delhi.

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