BREAKING; General Law relating to Secondary Evidence is not applicable to Electronic Evidence; Ratio in Parliament Attack Case [State v. Navjot Sandhu alias Afsan Guru (2005)11 SCC 600] overruled to that extent [Read the Judgment]

BREAKING; General Law relating to Secondary Evidence is not applicable to Electronic Evidence; Ratio in Parliament Attack Case [State  v. Navjot Sandhu alias Afsan Guru (2005)11 SCC 600] overruled to that extent [Read the Judgment]

A three Judge Bench of the Supreme Court today in Ansar P.V. vs. P.K.Basheer & Ors., overruled the the  statement  of  law  on  admissibility  of  secondary  evidence  in Parliament Attack Case [State  v. Navjot Sandhu alias Afsan  Guru (2005) 11 SCC 600] to the extend pertaining to electronic record. The Bench comprising of Chief Justice Lodha, Justice Kurian Joseph and Justice Rohinton Nariman held that “the evidence relating to electronic record,  being  a special provision, the general law on secondary evidence  under  Section  63 read with Section 65 of the Evidence Act shall yield to the same.  Generalia specialibus non derogant, special law will always prevail over  the  general law. It appears, the court omitted to take  note  of  Sections  59  and  65A dealing with the admissibility of electronic  record.  Sections  63  and  65 have no application in the case of secondary evidence by way  of  electronic record; the same is wholly  governed  by  Sections  65A  and  65B.  To  that extent,  the  statement  of  law  on  admissibility  of  secondary  evidence pertaining to electronic record, as stated by this court  in  Navjot  Sandhu case (supra), does not lay down the correct legal position. It  requires  to be overruled and we  do  so”.

The bench explained the position of law by holding that “An  electronic  record  by  way  of  secondary evidence shall not be admitted in evidence  unless  the  requirements  under Section 65B are satisfied. Thus, in the case of CD,  VCD,  chip,  etc.,  the same shall be accompanied  by  the  certificate  in  terms  of  Section  65B obtained at the time of taking the document, without  which,  the  secondary evidence pertaining to that electronic record, is inadmissible.”

The releavnt portions of the Judgment is extracted below, Any documentary evidence by way of an electronic record under  the  Evidence Act, in view of Sections 59 and 65A, can be proved only in  accordance  with the procedure prescribed under Section  65B.  Section  65B  deals  with  the admissibility of the electronic record. The purpose of these  provisions  is to sanctify secondary evidence in electronic form, generated by a  computer.  It may be noted that the Section starts with a non obstante  clause.  Thus, notwithstanding anything contained in  the  Evidence  Act, any  information contained in an electronic record which  is  printed  on  a  paper,  stored, recorded or copied in optical or  magnetic  media  produced  by  a  computer shall be deemed to be a document only if the conditions mentioned under sub- Section (2) are satisfied,  without  further  proof  or  production  of  the original. The very admissibility  of  such  a  document,  i.e.,  electronic record which is called as computer output, depends on  the  satisfaction  of the four conditions  under  Section  65B(2).  Following  are  the  specified conditions under Section 65B(2) of the Evidence Act:

(i)   The electronic record containing  the  information  should  have  been produced by  the  computer  during  the period  over  which  the  same  was regularly used to store or  process  information  for  the  purpose  of  any activity regularly carried on over that period by the person  having  lawful control over the use of that computer;

(ii)  The information of the kind contained in electronic record or  of  the kind from which the information  is  derived  was  regularly  fed  into  the computer in the ordinary course of the said activity;

(iii) During the  material  part  of  the  said  period,  the  computer  was operating properly and that even if it was not operating properly  for  some time, the break or  breaks  had  not  affected  either  the  record  or  the accuracy of its contents; and

(iv)  The information contained in the record should be  a  reproduction  or derivation from the information  fed  into  the  computer  in  the  ordinary course of the said activity.

Under Section 65B(4) of the Evidence  Act,  if  it  is  desired  to  give  a statement in any proceedings pertaining  to  an  electronic  record,  it  is permissible provided the following conditions are satisfied:

(a)   There must be a certificate which  identifies  the  electronic  record containing the statement;

(b)   The certificate must describe  the  manner  in  which  the  electronic record was produced;

(c)   The certificate must furnish the particulars of  the  device  involved in the production of that record;

(d)   The certificate must deal with  the  applicable  conditions  mentioned under Section 65B(2) of the Evidence Act; and

(e)   The certificate must be signed by a  person  occupying  a  responsible official position in relation to the operation of the relevant device.

It is  further  clarified  that  the  person  need  only  to  state  in  the certificate that the same is to the best of his knowledge and  belief.  Most importantly, such a certificate must accompany the  electronic  record  like computer printout, Compact Disc (CD), Video Compact Disc (VCD),  pen  drive, etc., pertaining to which a statement is sought to  be  given  in  evidence, when the same is produced in evidence. All these  safeguards  are  taken  to ensure the source and authenticity, which are the two  hallmarks  pertaining to electronic record sought to  be  used  as evidence.  Electronic  records being more susceptible to tampering,  alteration,  transposition,  excision, etc. without such safeguards, the whole trial based on proof  of  electronic records can lead to travesty of justice. Only if the electronic record is duly produced in terms of  Section  65B  of the Evidence Act, the question would arise as  to  the  genuineness  thereof and in that situation, resort can be  made  to  Section  45A  –  opinion  of examiner of electronic evidence.

The Evidence Act does not contemplate or permit the proof of  an  electronic record by oral evidence if requirements under Section 65B  of  the  Evidence Act are not complied with, as the law now stands in India. It is relevant to note that Section 69 of the Police and  Criminal  Evidence Act, 1984 (PACE) dealing with evidence on computer  records  in  the  United Kingdom was repealed by  Section  60  of  the  Youth  Justice  and  Criminal Evidence Act, 1999. Computer evidence  hence  must  follow  the  common  law rule, where a presumption exists that the computer producing the  evidential output was recording properly at the material time. The presumption  can  be rebutted if evidence to the contrary is adduced. In  the  United  States  of America, under Federal Rule of Evidence, reliability of records normally  go to the weight of evidence and not to admissibility.

Proof of electronic record is a special provision introduced by the  IT  Act amending various provisions under the Evidence  Act.  The  very  caption  of Section 65A  of  the  Evidence  Act,  read  with  Sections  59  and  65B  is sufficient to hold that the  special  provisions  on  evidence  relating  to electronic record shall  be  governed  by  the  procedure  prescribed  under Section 65B of the Evidence Act. That is a complete code in itself. Being  a special law, the general law under Sections 63 and 65 has to yield.

In State (NCT of Delhi) v. Navjot Sandhu alias Afsan  Guru[1],  a  two-Judge Bench of this Court had an occasion to consider an issue  on  production  of electronic record as  evidence.  While  considering  the  printouts  of  the computerized records of the calls pertaining to the cellphones, it was  held at Paragraph-150 as follows:

“150. According to Section 63, secondary evidence means and includes,  among other things, “copies made from the original by mechanical  processes  which in themselves insure the accuracy of the  copy,  and  copies  compared  with such copies”. Section 65 enables secondary evidence of  the  contents  of  a document to be adduced if the original is of such a  nature  as  not  to  be easily movable. It is not in dispute that the information contained  in  the call records is stored in huge servers which  cannot  be  easily  moved  and produced in the court. That is what the High  Court  has  also  observed  at para 276. Hence, printouts taken from the  computers/servers  by  mechanical process and certified by a responsible  official  of  the  service-providing company can be led in evidence  through  a  witness  who  can  identify  the signatures of the certifying officer or otherwise speak of the  facts  based on  his  personal  knowledge.  Irrespective  of  the  compliance  with   therequirements  of  Section  65-B,  which  is   a   provision   dealing   with admissibility of electronic records, there is no bar to  adducing  secondary evidence under the other provisions of the Evidence  Act,  namely,  Sections 63 and 65. It may be that the certificate containing  the  details  in  sub-section (4) of Section 65-B is not filed in the instant case, but that  does not mean that secondary evidence cannot be given even  if  the  law  permits such evidence to be given in the circumstances  mentioned  in  the  relevant provisions, namely, Sections 63 and 65.”

It may be seen that it was a case where  a  responsible  official  had  duly certified the document at the time of production itself. The  signatures  in the certificate were also identified. That is apparently in compliance  with the procedure prescribed under Section 65B of the Evidence Act. However,  it was held that irrespective  of  the  compliance  with  the  requirements  of Section 65B, which is a special provision dealing with admissibility of  the electronic record, there is no bar in  adducing  secondary  evidence,  under Sections 63 and 65, of an electronic record.

The evidence relating to electronic record, as noted herein before, being  a special provision, the general law on secondary evidence  under  Section  63 read with Section 65 of the Evidence Act shall yield to the same.  Generalia specialibus non derogant, special law will always prevail over  the  general law. It appears, the court omitted to take  note  of  Sections  59  and  65A dealing with the admissibility of electronic  record.  Sections  63  and  65 have no application in the case of secondary evidence by way  of  electronic record; the same is wholly  governed  by  Sections  65A  and  65B.  To  that extent,  the  statement  of  law  on  admissibility  of  secondary  evidence pertaining to electronic record, as stated by this court  in  Navjot  Sandhu case ((2005) 11 SCC 600]), does not lay down the correct legal position. It  requires  to be overruled and we  do  so.”