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Information Contained In A Document Is A 'Corporeal Property' And Can Be Subject Matter Of Theft: SC [Read Judgment]

Ashok Kini
9 May 2019 1:40 PM GMT
Information Contained In A Document Is A Corporeal Property And Can Be Subject Matter Of Theft: SC [Read Judgment]
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"Information contained in a document, if replicated, can be the subject of theft and can result in wrongful loss, even though the original document was only temporarily removed from its lawful custody for the purpose of extracting the information contained therein."

The Supreme Court has held that the "document" as defined in Section 29 of the Indian Penal Code is a "moveable property" within the meaning of Section 22 IPC and the information contained thereon in the documents would also fall within the purview of the "corporeal property" and can be the subject matter of the theft. The bench comprising Justice R. Banumathi and Justice R....

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The Supreme Court has held that the "document" as defined in Section 29 of the Indian Penal Code is a "moveable property" within the meaning of Section 22 IPC and the information contained thereon in the documents would also fall within the purview of the "corporeal property" and can be the subject matter of the theft.

The bench comprising Justice R. Banumathi and Justice R. Subhash Reddy however quashed criminal cases lodged against some shareholders of a company who used some documents belonging to the company in judicial proceedings is to substantiate their case namely, "oppression and mismanagement" of the administration of Company and their plea in other pending proceedings.

The accused approached the High Court seeking to quash the summons issued in a case filed against them for the theft of some document including Internal Audit Reports belonging to the company and using it in some judicial proceedings. The High court, in this petition, held that taking away the information contained in such documents cannot be considered to be "movable property" and the temporary removal of the documents for taking away the contents thereon by itself cannot be the subject of the offence of theft or dishonest misappropriation of property as well as dishonest receiving of the stolen property. Thus it was held that the complaint would not survive in respect of these documents, but would be maintainable as far as other documents, which are allegedly missing. Both the accused and complainant then approached the Apex Court aggrieved by the unfavourable parts of the order.

The bench [in Birla Corporation Limited Vs. Adventz Investments And Holdings Limited] disagreed with this interpretation and said that the documents and the replication of the documents and the contents thereon have physical presence and therefore, are certainly "corporeal property" and the same can be the subject matter of theft. It added that information contained in a document, if replicated, can be the subject of theft and can result in wrongful loss, even though the original document was only temporarily removed from its lawful custody for the purpose of extracting the information contained therein. It said:

"Moveable property" is defined in Section 22 IPC which includes a corporeal property of every description. It is beyond doubt that a document is a "moveable property" within the meaning of Section 22 IPC which can be the subject matter of theft. A "document" is a "corporeal property". A thing is "corporeal" if it has a body, material and a physical presence. As per Section 29 IPC, "Document" denotes "any matter expressed or described upon any substance by means of letters, figures or marks or by more than one of those means, intended to be used, or which may be used as evidence of that matter". The first Explanation to Section 29 IPC provides that it is immaterial by what means or upon what substance these are formed. This definition would include within its ambit photocopy of a document. As per Explanation No.2 of Section 29 IPC, letters, figures or marks shall be deemed to be expressed by such letters, figures or marks within the meaning of the Section. Such letters, figures or marks thus have a material and physical presence. Therefore, it can also be inferred that the said information would be deemed to fall within the purview of "Document" – a corporeal property."

However, the court observed that no "dishonest intention" or "wrongful gain" could be attributed to the accused and there is no "wrongful loss" to the company so as to attract the ingredients of Sections 378 and 380 IPC in this case. The bench, while quashing the summons, said:

"When a bona fide dispute exists between the parties as to whether there is oppression and mismanagement, there is no question of "wrongful gain" to the respondents or "wrongful loss" to the appellant. In using the documents, when there is no dishonest intention to cause "wrongful loss" to the complainant and "wrongful gain" to the respondents, it cannot be said that the ingredients of theft are made out."

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