Admissibility of Electronic Evidence
Due to the boom in the industry of e-commerce and tremendous increase in e-crimes, electronic evidence gained its importance and it has involved into a fundamental pillar of communication, processing and documentation. The various forms of evidence are increasingly being used in both Civil & Criminal Litigations. During trials, Judges are often asked to determine the admissibility of electronic evidence and it substantially impacts the outcome of civil law suit or conviction/acquittal of the accused in a criminal case. The Court continue to grapple with this new electronic frontier as the unique nature of e-evidence, as well as the ease with which it can be manipulated or falsified, creates hurdle to admissibility not faced with the other evidence. The various categories of electronic evidence including website data, social network communication, e-mail, SMS/MMS and computer generated documents poses unique problems and challenges for proper authentication.
The Indian Evidence Act has been amended by virtue of Section 92 of Information Technology Act, 2000 (Before amendment). Section 3 of the Act was amended and the phrase “All documents produced for the inspection of the Court” were substituted by “All documents including electronic records produced for the inspection of the Court”. Regarding the documentary evidence, in Section 59, for the words “Content of documents” the words “Content of documents or electronic records” have been substituted and Section 65A & 65B were inserted to incorporate the admissibility of electronic evidence.
In Section 61 to 65, the word “Document or content of documents” have not been replaced by the word “Electronic documents or content of electronic documents”. Thus, the intention of the legislature is explicitly clear i.e. not to extend the applicability of section 61 to 65 to the electronic record. It is the cardinal principle of interpretation that if the legislature has omitted to use any word, the presumption is that the omission is intentional. It is well settled that the Legislature does not use any word unnecessarily.
On the other hand, in Section 61 to 65 Indian Evidence Act, the word “Document or content of documents” have not been replaced by the word “Electronic documents or content of electronic documents”. Thus, the omission of the word, “Electronic Records” in the scheme of Section 61 to 65 signifies the clear and explicit legislative intention, i.e. not to extend the applicability of Section 61 to 65 to the electronic record in view of overriding provision of Section 65-B Indian Evidence Act dealing exclusively with the admissibility of the electronic record which in view of the compelling technological reasons can be admitted only in the manner specified under Section 65-B Indian Evidence Act.
The main objective to introduce the specific provision has its origin to the technical nature of the evidence particularly as the evidence in the electronic form may not be produce in the court of law owing to the size of computer/server, residing in the machine language and thus, requiring the interpreter to read the same. The Section 65B of the Evidence Act makes the secondary copy in the form of computer output comprising of printout or the data copied on electronic/magnetic media.
In the matter of Anvar P.V. versus , P.K. Basheer And Ors. [ MANU /SC/0834/2014] is significant judgment, the Supreme Court has settled the controversies arising from the various conflicting judgments as well as the practices being followed in the various High Courts and Trial Courts as to the admissibility of the Electronic Evidences. The Court has interpreted the Section 22A, 45A, 59, 65A & 65B of the Evidence Act and held that data in CD/DVD/Pen Drive are not admissible without a certificate U/s 65 B(4) of Evidence Act. It has been elucidated that electronic evidence without certificate U/s 65B cannot be proved by oral evidence and also the opinion of the expert U/s 45A Evidence Act cannot be resorted to make such electronic evidence admissible.
The judgment would have serious implications in all the cases where the prosecution relies on the electronic data and particularly in the cases of anti corruption where the reliance is being placed on the audio-video recordings which are being forwarded in the form of CD/DVD to the Court. In all such cases, where the CD/DVD are being forwarded without a certificate U/s 65 B Evidence Act, such CD/DVD are not admissible in evidence and further expert opinion as to their genuineness cannot be looked into by the Court as evident from the Supreme Court Judgment. Electronic records being more susceptible to tampering, alteration, transposition, excision, etc. without such safeguards, the whole trial based on proof of electronic records can lead to travesty of justice.
In the anti corruption cases launched by the CBI and anti corruption/Vigilance agencies of the State, even the original recording which are recorded either in Digital Voice Recorders/mobile phones are not been preserved and thus, once the original recording is destroyed, there cannot be any question of issuing the certificate under Section 65B(4) of the Evidence Act. Therefore in such cases, neither CD/DVD containing such recordings are admissible and cannot be exhibited into evidence nor the oral testimony or expert opinion is admissible and as such, the recording/data in the CD/DVD’s cannot become a sole basis for the conviction.
In the aforesaid Judgment, the Court has held that Section 65B of the Evidence Act being a ‘non obstante clause’ would override the general law on secondary evidence under Section 63 and 65 of the Evidence Act. The Section 63 and Section 65 of the Evidence Act have no application to the secondary evidence of the electronic evidence and same shall be wholly governed by the Section 65A and 65B of the Evidence Act. The Constitution Bench of the Supreme Court overruled the judgment laid down in the State (NCT of Delhi) v. Navjot Sandhu alias Afsan Guru[(2005) 11 SCC 600 by the two judge Bench of the Supreme Court. The court specifically observed that the Judgment of Navjot Sandhu supra, to the extent, the statement of the law on admissibility of electronic evidence pertaining to electronic record of this Court, does not lay down correct position and required to be overruled.
In the recent matter of Jagdeo Singh Vs. The State and Ors.[MANU/DE/0376/2015] pronounced by Hon’ble High Court of Delhi, while dealing with the admissibility of intercepted telephone call in a CD and CDR which were without a certificate u/s 65B Evidence Act, the court observed that the secondary electronic evidence without certificate u/s 65B Evidence Act is inadmissible and cannot be looked into by the court for any purpose whatsoever
The admissibility of the secondary electronic evidence has to be adjudged within the parameters of Section 65B of Evidence Act and the proposition of the law settled in the recent judgment of the Apex Court and various other High Courts as discussed above. The proposition is clear and explicit that if the secondary electronic evidence is without a certificate u/s 65B of Evidence Act, it is not admissible and any opinion of the forensic expert and the deposition of the witness in the court of law cannot be looked into by the court. However, there are few gaps which are still unresolved as what would be the fate of the secondary electronic evidence seized from the accused wherein, the certificate u/s 65B of Evidence Act cannot be taken and the accused cannot be made witness against himself as it would be violative of the Article 19 of the Constitution of India.
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