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, 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.”