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Literal Meaning

Wrong or evil in itself




The term Mala In Se refers to criminal acts that are wrong because they violate the moral, public, or natural principles of a society. These are the actions that are considered to be wrong because of their very nature, regardless of whether there is a statute or law, prohibiting them. Such acts include murder, torture, kidnapping, rape, theft, and other crimes against humanity. This class of crime is contrasted by crimes mala prohibita, which means wrong because they are prohibited. Malum prohibitum crimes are criminal, not because they are inherently bad, but because the act is prohibited by the law of the state.


For instance, robbing a bank is a different crime than violating a traffic rule. Though both are technically against the law, these crimes still fall into two very distinct categories. The first category constitutes of actions that are deemed evil because of the nature of the action and are well recognized as crimes even if a person has not read the law. Such are crimes of mala in se – those which violate society’s view of morality. Often these are more serious crimes, such as felonies, which can result in a prison sentence.

Case Laws

In Bachan Singh vs the State of Punjab, the Supreme Court held that “True of crimes inherently vicious and pernicious, which under the English Common Law were classified as crimes mala in se, as distinguished from crimes mala prohibita. Crimes mala in se embrace acts immoral or wrong in themselves, such as murder, rape, arson, burglary, larceny (robbery and dacoity;) while crimes mala prohibita embrace things prohibited by statute as infringing on others’ rights, though no moral turpitude attaches to such crimes. Such acts constitute crimes only because they are so prohibited.”

In Buddha Pitai vs Sub-Divisional Officer, the Allahabad High Court held that “The common law distinguished, between a felony and misdemeanor or between crimes mala in se and mala prohibitas or between crimes false and infamous crimes. These classifications were objectionable and legislators drafting civil statutes that referred to criminal offenses needed a classification less tenuous and employed the general term “crimes involving moral turpitude.” It is not clear whether this established a new criterion or was merely a synthesis of previously recognized classifications. Stealing, embezzlement, burglary, receiving stolen property, cheating, perjury, filing of a false income tax return, or of false information to the comptroller of currency or pension office are included among the crimes involving moral turpitude but it is uncertain whether adultery and bigamy are obloquies.”

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