In a recent judgment, the Calcutta High Court has directed investigating authorities to ascertain and record the IMEI number and other product details before handing over the interim custody of stolen electronic devices such as mobile phones, laptops, etc.
“In the event electronic devices like mobile phone, laptop, tablet, etc. are seized as stolen property and are required to be produced and identified during trial, any prayer for return interim custody of such devices pending investigation, enquiry or trial shall not be granted till the IMEI number or other unique identification number, as applicable to the concerned device including its brand/product number and manufacturing details are ascertained and noted in the case records for identification of such device during trial. Till such ascertainment is made the concerned devices shall be retained in safe custody of the Court in accordance with law,” Justice Joymalya Bagchi observed.
The Court was hearing a Revision Petition filed by one Mr. Om Prakash Verma, who had challenged an order passed by the Additional Sessions Judge, wherein the lower Court had refused to summon an additional witness under Section 313 of the Cr.P.C, to aid in proving the purchase receipt of a phone. This phone was allegedly stolen from Mr. Verma’s electronic store during a dacoity.
The phone was later recovered and handed over to him, on executing a bond and was produced as evidence before the Trial Court. However, during cross-examination, the defendants had raised suspicion as to whether the phone recovered during the course of investigation and the phone produced before the Court were one and the same.
Mr. Verma had then sought to produce an additional witness for proving the purchase receipt of the phone. The defendants, however, submitted that information regarding this receipt, which was claimed to have been collected during investigation, was never communicated to them as mandated under Section 173 (5) of the Cr.P.C. Agreeing with the defendants, the Trial Court had refused Mr. Verma’s plea.
While hearing the Revision Petition against this order, the High Court noted that the investigating agency had failed to ascertain the IMEI number of the mobile phone before handing it over to Mr. Kumar. This had led to a snap in the link between the electronic gadget seized and the item which was produced during trial. Such conduct by the authorities, it observed, “exposes serious deficiency in knowledge and experience in handling cases involving electronic gadgets”.
Further, it opined that such lacuna is not a mere irregularity of procedure but strikes at the root of the prosecution case by extinguishing the “best evidence” available for ascertaining the identity of the mobile phone. The Court, therefore, dismissed the Revision Petition, observing that permitting the examination of the proposed witness would, in fact, amount to repairing a lacuna in the prosecution case.
Thereafter, directing the authorities to mandatorily record the IMEI number and other details in such cases, it observed, “Handing over a mobile phone or any other electronic devices to a third party by way of interim custody pending investigation, enquiry or trial without ascertaining its IMEI or any other unique identification number is virtually equivalent to handing over interim custody of a motor vehicle to a third party without ascertaining its registration mark and other particulars.”
Justice Bagchi also directed the Registrar General of the Court to circulate a copy of the order to all Judicial Officers of the State, to ensure awareness and due compliance with the safeguards.