Saritha S Nair Vs Union Of India & Anr.
Date of Order:
10th August 2022
Justice Kauser Edappagath
Petitioner- Saritha S Nair
Respondent- Union of India & Anr
The Kerala High Court ruled that a statement made under Section 164 of the Code of Criminal Procedure, being the record of an act performed by a public servant in the course of his duties, is a public document under Section 74(1)(iii) of the Indian Evidence Act. The Court further stated that anyone has the right to inspect the public records in which they are interested in order to safeguard their interests.
Justice Kauser Edappagath made the ruling while dismissing a petition filed by the primary accused in the solar panel scam, Saritha S Nair, seeking a copy of the statement provided by the prime accused in the gold smuggling case, Swapna Suresh, under Section 164 CrPC. The Court did, however, rule that in order for a stranger to see these records, the final report in the matter must be submitted, cognisance must be taken, and he/she must demonstrate a genuine interest in the material.
Section 164 of the Code of Criminal Procedure- The section provides that any Metropolitan Magistrate or Judicial Magistrate, whether or whether he has jurisdiction in the matter, may record any confession or statement made to him during the course of an inquiry under this legislation for the time being in force
Section 74(1)(iii) of the Indian Evidence Act- This section defines what constitutes a public document as per the Evidence Act. Documents of public offices, legislative, judicial, and executive, of any portion of India, the Commonwealth, or a foreign nation all fall within this category.
Section 16 of the Unlawful Activities (Prevention) Act 1967- The section states that whoever employs or causes to be recruited any person or individuals for the commission of a terrorist act is penalized by imprisonment for a term not less than five years, but which may be extended to life imprisonment, as well as a fine
- The plea before the Court that raised these issues was filed by Saritha Nair, the main accused in the solar panel scam, which entailed stealing over 70 lakh from numerous powerful individuals under the pretence of naming them business partners or as advance payments for installing solar panels.
- On 13/07/2020, the Enforcement Directorate filed an Enforcement Crime Investigation Report against three accused under Sections 16, 17, and 18 of the UAPA 1967. Following an investigation, a prosecution case was filed at the Special Court on 6/10/2020 under Sections 44 and 45 of the Prevention of Money Laundering Act, 2002, with the option to submit a supplemental complaint, if necessary.
- During the trial, accused No.2 made a statement before the Chief Judicial Magistrate under Section 164 of the Cr.P.C.
- The petitioner herein, who was said to be a witness in the foregoing matter, applied to the Special Court for a copy of the statement submitted by the accused No.2 under Section 164 of the Cr.P.C.
- As stated by the petitioner, the accused No.2 made several imputations against her in her testimony, for which she plans to seek legal redress.
- The Special Court denied the petition in order, ruling that the petitioner, as a third party in the proceedings, is not entitled to a copy at this time. The abovementioned order is being challenged in this Crl. M.C.
- Whether a statement recorded under Section 164 of the Criminal Procedure Code is a public document as per the Indian Evidence Act Section 74(1) (iii)?
- Is it possible for a stranger to the proceedings to obtain a copy of the proceedings under Section 76 of the Indian Evidence Act?
ARGUMENTS ADVANCED BY THE PETITIONER
- The counsel for the petitioner submitted that the accused's statement recorded under Section 164 of the Evidence Act is a public document and hence the petitioner is entitled to a copy.
- Reliance was placed on the cases of Raju Janaki Yadav v. State of Uttar Pradesh and Others [2013 Crl LJ 78] and Anna Rao and Others v. State of A.P [2003 KHC 2656] for the same.
- It was also stated that the petitioner has strong reasons to think that accused No.2 has accused her in the statement of conspiring with the Chief Minister and many others to ambush the accused No.2 after her statements against the Government.
ARGUMENTS ADVANCED BY THE RESPONDENT
- The counsel for the respondent stated that accused No.2's statement recorded under Section 164 of the Cr.P.C. must be kept private till a supplemental complaint is filed, according to the submission.
- He further claimed that because the petitioner is a stranger to the proceedings, he is not entitled to the copy at all.
ARGUMENTS ADVANCED BY THE AMICUS CURIAE
- It was argued that only until the court takes cognizance of the statement under Section 164 of the Cr.P.C. does it acquire the status of a public record.
- The learned amicus curiae further argued that only someone who can demonstrate a strong interest in the public material is entitled to a copy of it.
- Reliance was placed on the cases of State of Karnataka by Nonavinakere Police v. Shivanna @ Tarkari Shivanna [2014 KHC 4321] and in Miss ‘A’ v. State of Uttar Pradesh and Another [2020 (5) KHC 441].
- The court opined that the petitioner's entitlement to seek certified copies must be decided in accordance with Sections 74 and 76 of the Indian Evidence Act.
- On a perusal of the sections, it was stated that it must be a record of the court's action in order to be considered a public document. The record itself would not be made public. Only the record of the court's actions is a public document. Thus, depositions of witnesses recorded by a judge/court officer, judgments, and decrees are public papers since they are records of court activities.
- Hence, it was held that the record of a statement recorded under Section 164 of the Cr. P.C., being the record of an act of a public officer done in the course of his duty, is a public document coming under Section 74(1)(iii) of the Evidence Act.
- It was further stated that the right to inspect a public document presupposes the right to obtain a certified copy of it. Section 74 of the Evidence Act grants every individual who has a right to see a public document in the possession of a public officer the right to receive a copy of such document on demand upon payment of a legal fee. Every individual has the right to see public materials in which he has an interest in order to defend such interest. This is a common law right as well as a right established by the Act. The right to inspect is not mentioned in the Act. The scope of the right is determined by the person's interest in the document and what is reasonably necessary to defend that interest.
- It was stated that in the eyes of the law, everyone has the right to see public papers if he can demonstrate that he is personally interested in them. Without a doubt, an accused or a victim is a participant in the statement recorded under Section 164 of the Cr. P.C., and as such, they have the right to see and get copies of it.
- However, a third party/stranger would be permitted to see and get a copy of the certified written statement under Section 164 of the Cr.P.C. only if he has established sufficient interest demonstrating that such examination is reasonable and required for the preservation of his interests. As a result, the petitioner was not entitled to the requested copies of the statement.
- The bench stated that it is reasonable to assume that no one (whether accused, victim, or a third party) is entitled to a copy of the statement recorded under Section 164 of the Code until the final report is filed and cognizance is taken. In the event of a third party or stranger, he must also demonstrate a genuine interest in the material. The aforementioned interest must be direct and tangible. An illusory or fictitious interest is no interest at all.
- Regarding the conspiring accusations by the petitioner, the court deemed those as just the petitioner's apprehensions and stated the petitioner was unable to provide any factual foundation for her concerns.
As a result, the petitioner is not entitled to the requested copies of the statement. Furthermore, the contested order was not subject to review.
The Court agreed with the amicus on their points and additionally found that a statement recorded by a Magistrate is a public document since it is a record of the Court's actions. In this case, the Court determined that the petitioner lacked a genuine or substantial interest in receiving a copy of Suresh's statement and so rejected the request.
Learn the practical aspects of CrPC HERE, CPC HERE, IPC HERE, Evidence Act HERE, Family Laws HERE, DV Act HERE
Click here to download the original copy of the judgement