1 Oct 2023 5:54 AM GMT
The Supreme Court ruled that 'panchnamas' (documents recording the proceedings of searches and seizures) would be deemed inadmissible in a court of law if they were prepared in a manner violative of Section 162 CrPC. Specifically, the Court raised alarm over the role played by witnesses in these proceedings and their failure to adequately disclose how objects were discovered during...
The Supreme Court ruled that 'panchnamas' (documents recording the proceedings of searches and seizures) would be deemed inadmissible in a court of law if they were prepared in a manner violative of Section 162 CrPC. Specifically, the Court raised alarm over the role played by witnesses in these proceedings and their failure to adequately disclose how objects were discovered during searches.
The court observed “Witnesses to the panchnamas and the seizures acted as mere attestors to the documents and did not disclose in their own words as to how these objects were discovered, i.e., at whose instance and how. Ergo, no lawful validity attaches to these proceedings recorded by the police in the context of collection of all this evidence.”
The court scrutinized the preparation of 'panchnamas' and found them to be unlawful. It noted that witnesses who attested to these documents failed to provide detailed accounts of how objects were discovered, who initiated the discovery, and the manner in which these discoveries occurred. Consequently, the Court determined that these police-recorded proceedings lacked lawful validity, casting a shadow over the prosecution's collection of evidence.
A 3 judge bench of the Supreme Court comprising Justices BR Gavai, Justice JB Pardiwala, and Justice Sanjay Kumar was hearing an appeal against an MP HC judgment that had affirmed the conviction and sentence of life imprisonment for Omprakash Yadav, while a death penalty for Raja Yadav and Rajesh Yadav in relation to kidnapping and murder of a 15-year-old boy.
The appellant Omprakash Yadav was convicted under Section 364A read with Section 120B of the Indian Penal Code (IPC), while Raja Yadav and Rajesh Yadav were held guilty under Section 302 IPC read with Section 120B and Section 364A read with Section 120B, respectively
The Court raised concerns about the Investigating Officer's handling of the proceedings, which severely undermined the prosecution's case
In its judgment, the Supreme Court referred to the precedent set in Yakub Abdul Razak Memon v. State of Maharashtra through CBI Bombay (2013) 13 SCC 1 where this court noted that “the primary intention behind the ‘panchnama’ is to guard against possible tricks and unfair dealings on the part of the officers entrusted with the execution of the search and also to ensure that anything incriminating which may be said to have been found in the premises searched was really found there and was not introduced or planted by the officers of the search party. “
The Court further ruled that a panchnama would be inadmissible in a court of law if it violated Section 162 of the CrPC. It added “the procedure requires the Investigating Officer to record the search proceedings as if they were written by the panch witnesses themselves and it should not be recorded in the form of examining witnesses, as laid down in Section 161 Cr. P.C”
The Court referred to a recent 3-judge bench decision in Ramanand @ Nandlal Bharti v. State of Uttar Pradesh 2022 LiveLaw (SC) 843 where it reaffirmed the necessity for proving the contents of the 'panchnama’.
The court opined that “the requirement of law that needs to be fulfilled before accepting the evidence of discovery is by proving the contents of the panchnama and the Investigating Officer, in his deposition, is obliged in law to prove the contents of the panchnama. In order to enable the Court to safely rely upon the evidence of the Investigating Officer, it is necessary that the exact words attributed to the accused, as the statement made by him, be brought on record and, for this purpose, the Investigating Officer is obliged to depose in his evidence the exact statement and not merely say that the discovery panchnama of the weapon of the offence was drawn up as the accused was willing to take it out from a particular place”
The Court also cited the case of Khet Singh v. Union of India (2002) 4 SCC 380, where it was pointed out that if searches and seizures were conducted in complete defiance of the law and procedure, or if there was any possibility of evidence tampering or interpolation, such evidence could not be admitted in court.
Ultimately the court had concluded that there were infirmities and gaps in the chain of circumstantial evidence and therefore, the appellants were acquitted by giving them the benefit of doubt.
Other reports about the judgment can be read here
Case title: Rajesh v State of MP
Citation: Criminal Appeal No(s). 793-794 of 2022
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