The Supreme Court today ruled that ‘panchnamas’ i.e documents which record the proceedings of searches and seizures would be regarded as inadmissible in a court of law if they were prepared in a manner that violates Section 162 CrPC which prohibits the use of statements made to the police during the course of an investigation as the police might record such statements for personal gain.
Specifically, the Court raised serious concerns over the role played by witnesses in such proceedings and their failure to adequately disclose discovery of objects during searches.
‘Panchnamas’ Present Unreliable Witness Statements
The court observed that the witnesses to the ‘panchnamas’ and seizures merely acted as attestors to the documents and did not disclose in their own statements as to how and at whose instance these objects were discovered. Hence, no lawful validity is attached to such proceedings in the context of collection of such evidence.
The court, after scrutinising the preparation of ‘panchnamas’, found them to be unlawful. It noted that witnesses attesting to these documents failed to provide detailed accounts of how such objects were discovered, including the manner and initiation of the discoveries. Consequently, the Court ruled that these police-recorded proceedings were not lawfully valid, and casted a shadow over the prosecution collecting the evidence.
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The Precedents which were referred to during this case
The Division Bench of the Supreme Court in an appeal against an MP High Court judgement in relation to kidnapping and murder of a 15-year-old boy, had raised concerns over the way the case was mishandled by the investigating officer.
The Supreme Court also referred to the precedent set in the case Yakub Abdul Razak Memon v. State of Maharashtra through CBI Bombay (2013).
The court had noted that the primary intention behind referring to the ‘panchnama’ is to provide a safeguard against possible unfair means used the officers entrusted with executing the search and to ensure that anything incriminating which is said to have been found in the searched premises was in actuality found there and not planted by the search party’s officers. The Court also reaffirmed the necessity for proving the contents of the ‘panchnama’.
The Court also cited the observations made in the case of Khet Singh v. Union of India (2002), where it was pointed out that if searches and seizures were conducted after completely defying the law and procedure leading to the possibility of evidence tampering and thus such evidence was deemed inadmissible in court.
The Court acquitted the appellants on benefit of doubt as based on its conclusions there were gaps in the chain of circumstantial evidence based on which this case had proceeded.
It observed that before accepting the evidence of discovery, basic requirements of law need to be fulfilled. The Investigating Officer is obligated to prove the contents of the ‘panchnama’ to enable the Court to safely rely upon the evidence produced by the Investigating Officer, it is necessary that the exact statement and not merely the circumstantial evidence is produced before the court.