What does shifting of the burden of proof means?

Burden of proof

Whenever a plaintiff files a suit with the court of law, it is the responsibility of the plaintiff to prove the facts claimed in the suit, beyond reasonable doubt. Burden of proof is the responsibility of the prosecution to prove the claim is valid.

For example:- A claims that B has stolen money and gold from A. Now A has to prove beyond reasonable doubt that B has done that.

In criminal proceedings, the burden is always on the prosecution to prove that the accused has beyond reasonable doubt, has harmed the plaintiff. Failure of proving that results in acquittal of the accused. Sec 101 of Indian Evidence Act states that whoever desires the Court to give any judgment based on the facts the person asserts, to any legal right or liability, must prove that such facts exist. This is known as the “burden of proof”. Normally the one who files a suit or complaint has to prove that the accused has done the act with proper valid evidence. As the legal system is based on the phrase “innocent until proven guilty”, it puts an obligation on the prosecution to prove that the defendant has or the guilty party has done the act. Throughout the trial the burden of proof keeps on shifting from one person to another. The parties need to prove whatever they say in the court of law, with the help of valid evidences and witnesses.

The rule of burden of proof is different in civil and criminal cases as in civil cases the party who alleges anything needs to only prove the fact, but not necessary that such facts are proved beyond reasonable doubts. But in criminal cases, it is mandatory to prove any facts beyond reasonable doubts or the defendant might get the benefit of the doubt and will be acquitted.

In Jarnail v State of Punjab AIR 1996, the Supreme Court observed that in all the criminal cases the responsibility of proving that the defendant has committed the crime beyond all the reasonable doubts is upon the plaintiff to prove and it cannot depend on the evidence brought by the accused to prove that the defendant has committed the crime. The prosecution cannot just prove the facts claimed by the defendant as untrue.

When the prosecution has fulfilled his obligation of proving the facts claimed by them, then it is the responsibility of the defendant to rebut such facts by producing contradictory evidence. This situation where the burden primarily borne by the plaintiff shifts onto the shoulders of the defendant is called as ‘shifting of the burden of proof”. In a criminal proceeding after the prosecution has proved the facts beyond any doubts, the onus is then shifted on the defendant to prove the facts or he might get acquitted. This also ensures that a fair trial is being conducted and the defendant has been given opportunities to prove his innocence. If the defendant or defense does not prove the facts otherwise, then the defense stands to lose the case and the defendant is acquitted.

The important thing to note here is the burden of proof never shifts but the onus of proof keeps on shifting throughout the trial. Every fact proved first by the prosecution can be rebutted by the defense.


A files case against B that B has committed crime against A and wants B is punished and also presents the evidence against B. Now B has the onus on his shoulder to rebut and prove his innocence by putting up evidence. This is the onus of proof which is borne by the defendant.

The thing to note is that the onus or duty of proof shifts on the defense only after the prosecution has established a prima facie case against the defendant. During the trial the prosecution might show some piece of evidence recovered from the defendant’s house and which can be of significant importance in the case and maybe also charged with the charge of theft. Now the defendant has to present some evidence or testimony that the evidence in question was purchased or owned by the defendant.

The burden of proof and shifting the burden of proof during the trial helps both the parties to put forth their arguments and evidences and assists in conducting a fair trial.


The shifting of the burden of proof is the duty on the shoulder of the defendant to rebut the facts or show contradictory evidence to the pieces of evidence put forth by the prosecution. The onus is on the shoulders of the defense to rebut the claims and evidence only after the prosecution has established a prima facie case against the defendant. The onus of the proof ensures that the defendant is not wrongly accused of any crime and has been given enough opportunity to make his case.

“The views of the authors are personal

Tanmay P Bidkar
I have done my graduation in Bcom and currently, I am pursuing my keen interest in the field of Law. I am very curious and excited to learn, explore and pass on the knowledge. I am also interested in other activities and sports. I wish to contribute to this society in the best possible ways.