Duty of disclosure of evidence by prosecution

Duty of Public Prosecutor to be fair.

Rule 16 of the Chapter II, part VI of the Bar Council of India Rules under the Advocates Act, 1961 is as under:

16. An advocate appearing for the prosecution of a criminal trial shall so conduct the prosecution that it does not lead to conviction of the innocent. The suppression of material capable of establishing the innocence of the accused shall be scrupulously avoided.”

Therefore, it is clear that the Code & the Bar Council of India Rules provide a wide duty of disclosure. But this duty is limited to evidence on which the prosecutor proposes to place reliance during the trial.

The law in relation to investigation of offences and rights of an accused, in our country, has developed with the passage of time. On the one hand, power is vested in the investigating officer to conduct the investigation freely and transparently. Even the Courts do not normally have the right to interfere in the investigation. It exclusively falls in the domain of the investigating agency. In exceptional cases the High Courts have monitored the investigation but again within a very limited scope. There, on the other a duty is cast upon the prosecutor to ensure that rights of an accused are not infringed and he gets a fair chance to put forward his defence so as to ensure that a guilty does not go scot free while an innocent is not punished. Even in the might of the State the rights of an accused cannot be undermined, he must be tried in consonance with the provisions of the constitutional mandate. The cumulative effect of this constitutional philosophy is that both the Courts and the investigating agency should operate in their own independent fields while ensuring adherence to basic rule of law. It is not only the responsibility of the investigating agency but as well that of the Courts to ensure that investigation is fair and does not in any way hamper the freedom of an individual except in accordance with law. Equally enforceable canon of criminal law is that the high responsibility lies upon the investigating agency not to conduct an investigation in tainted and unfair manner. The investigation should not prima facie be indicative of bias mind and every effort should be made to bring the guilty to law as nobody stands above law de hors his position and influence in the society.

An investigation must be fair and effective, must proceed in proper direction in consonance with the ingredients of the offence and not in haphazard manner. In some cases besides investigation being effective the accused may have to prove miscarriage of justice but once it is shown the accused would be entitled to definite benefit in accordance with law. The investigation should be conducted in a manner so as to draw a just balance between citizen’s right under Articles 19 and 21 and expensive power of the police to make investigation.

The Court gives a right to the accused to receive all documents and statements as well as to move an application for production of any record or witness in support of his case. This constitutional mandate and statutory rights given to the accused places an implied obligation upon the prosecution (prosecution and the prosecutor) to make fair disclosure. The concept of fair disclosure would take in its ambit furnishing of a document which the prosecution relies upon whether filed in Court or not. That document should essentially be furnished to the accused and even in the cases where during investigation a document is bona fide obtained by the investigating agency and in the opinion of the prosecutor is relevant and would help in arriving at the truth, that document should also be disclosed to the accused. The role and obligation of the prosecutor particularly in relation to disclosure cannot be equated under our law to that prevalent under the English System as afore-referred. But at the same time, the demand for a fair trial cannot be ignored. It may be of different consequences where a document which has been obtained suspiciously, fraudulently or by causing undue advantage to the accused during investigation such document could be denied in the discretion of the prosecutor to the accused whether the prosecution relies or not upon such documents, however in other cases the obligation to disclose would be more certain. As already noticed the provisions of Section 207 has a material bearing on this subject and makes an interesting reading. This provision not only require or mandate that the Court without delay and free of cost should furnish to the accused copies of the police report, first information report, statement, confessional statement of the persons recorded under Section 161 whom the prosecution wishes to examine as witnesses, of course, excluding any part of a statement or document as contemplated under Section 173 (6) of the Code, any other document or relevant extract thereof which has been submitted to the Magistrate by the police under Sub Section 5 of Section 173. In contradistinction to the provisions of Section 173, where the Legislature has used the expression `documents on which the prosecution relies’ are not used under Section 207 of the Code. Therefore, the provisions of Section 207 of the Code will have to be given liberal and relevant meaning so as to achieve its object. Not only this, the documents submitted to the Magistrate along with the report under Section 173 (5) would deem to include the documents which have to be sent to the Magistrate during the course of investigation as per the requirement of Section 170 (2) of the Code.

The right of the accused with regard to disclosure of documents is a limited right but is codified and is the very foundation of a fair investigation and trial. On such matters, the accused cannot claim an indefeasible legal right to claim every document of the police file or even the portions which are permitted to be excluded from the documents annexed to the report under Section 173(2) as per orders of the Court. But certain rights of the accused flow both from the codified law as well as from equitable concepts of constitutional jurisdiction, as substantial variation to such procedure would frustrate the very basis of a fair trial. To claim documents within the purview of scope of Sections 207, 243 read with the provisions of Section 173 in its entirety and power of the Court under Section 91 of the Code to summon documents signifies and provides precepts which will govern the right of the accused to claim copies of the statement and documents which the prosecution has collected during investigation and upon which they rely. It will be difficult for the Court to say that the accused has no right to claim copies of the documents or request the Court for production of a document which is part of the general diary subject to satisfying the basic ingredients of law stated therein. A document which has been obtained bonafidely and has bearing on the case of the prosecution and in the opinion of the public prosecutor, the same should be disclosed to the accused in the interest of justice and fair investigation and trial should be furnished to the accused. Then that document should be disclosed to the accused giving him chance of fair defence, particularly when non-production or disclosure of such a document would affect administration of criminal justice and the defence of the accused prejudicially. The concept of disclosure and duties of the prosecutor under the English System cannot, in our opinion, be made applicable to Indian Criminal Jurisprudence stricto senso at this stage. However, we are of the considered view that the doctrine of disclosure would have to be given somewhat expanded application.

[Source: Sidharth Vashishth @ Manu Sharma v. State (NCT of Delhi),AIR 2010 SC 2352.]

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