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  • The Kerala High Court ruled on Thursday in a significant decision that a statement recorded under Section 164 of the Code of Criminal Procedure is a public document falling under Section 74(1)(iii) of the Indian Evidence Act because it is the record of an act done by a public officer in the discharge of his duty. 
  • However, Justice Kauser Edappagath clarified that no one is entitled to a copy of the 164 statement until the case's final report is filed and cognizance is taken. 
  • The Judge emphasised that a stranger seeking such copies must demonstrate genuine and tangible interest in the document.
  • The Court was hearing a petition filed by Saritha S. Nair, the prime accused in the solar panel scam, seeking copies of Swapna Suresh's Section 164 statement given in the diplomatic gold smuggling case. 
  • Under the Unlawful Activities (Prevention) Act, the Enforcement Directorate registered an Investigation Report against three accused in 2020. Following an investigation, a prosecution complaint was filed at the Special Court under the Prevention of Money Laundering Act. 
  • The Special Court took cognizance of the offence and assigned a case number to it. Swapna Suresh made a statement under Section 164 before the Chief Judicial Magistrate of Ernakulam while the investigation was ongoing.
  • The petitioner, who is alleged to be a witness in this case, applied to the Special Court for a copy of the 164 statement, claiming that Suresh made imputations against her in the statement for which she intends to seek legal redress. 
  • The Special Court denied the petition, ruling that the petitioner, as a third party in the proceedings, is not entitled to a copy at this stage. Nair petitioned the High Court in response to this decision. 
  • After hearing the opposing arguments, the Court recalled that in order to be a public document, it must be a record of the court's act. It was determined that the record itself would not be made public.
  • The Court also stated that everyone has the right to inspect public documents in which they are interested in order to protect that interest. 
  • The Evidence Act, on the other hand, was silent on the right to inspect. As a result, the Single Judge noted that in the eyes of the law, everyone has the right to inspect public documents if he can demonstrate that he is personally interested in them. 
  • Without a doubt, an accused or a victim is a person interested in the statement recorded under Section 164 of the Cr. P.C., and as such, they have the right to inspect and obtain copies of it. Nonetheless, it was determined that the petitioner's fears were insufficiently substantiated and thus 'speculative.' As a result, the petition was denied.
     
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