This section does not apply to cases in which the bad character of any person is itself a fact in issue.
A previous conviction is relevant as evidence of bad character.
In a criminal trial it is the principle that the good character of the accused is relevant. Section 54 lays down that the prosecution cannot lead evidence of bad character of the accused unless the accused leads evidence of his good character.
Under this section the prosecution can give evidence of bad character of the accused and it is relevant. It can give evidence of bad character only in reply to the accused showing his good character. If the accused has been guilty of criminal acts other than those covered by the indictment, for the purpose of leading to the conclusion that the accused is a person likely from his criminal conduct or character to have committed the offence for which he is being tried. The Supreme Court held that his (accused) bad character is not relevant unless he gives evidence of good character in which case by rebuttal evidence of bad character may be adduced.
Relevancy of evidence of bad character:
The prosecution may be permitted to give evidence of bad character only when the accused offers evidence of good character. But evidence of bad character in the first instance by the prosecution is not permitted. “It would only injure the accused by creating a prejudice against him.” The prohibition of course will not apply to a case where bad character of any person is itself in issue. It was held by the Supreme Court that the evidence which disclosed certain unpleasant things about the accused was examined by the court in order to ascertain the motive of the murder and not for proving guilt.
Explanation 1 of the Section 54 provides that the section has no application to the cases in which the bad character of any person is itself a fact in issue. The principle is that where the accused does not put his character in issue the prosecution must not have any right to attack the character of an accused. Explanation 1 has to be read with Chapter VIII, Cr. PC (security for keeping the peach for good behaviour).
If the character of the accused is otherwise relevant (Sections 6 to 55), it is admissible. Again, if the character is not separated from the relevant fact, in such cases the evidence of bad character is admissible.
Explanation 2 of this section lays down that the previous conviction is relevant as evidence of bad character when he is liable to enhanced punishment under section 75 of the I.P.C.