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Electronic evidence in stings can be morphed, says court

The case relates to an audio-video recording made by the correspondent and cameraperson of a news channel.

Written by Kaunain Sheriff M | New Delhi | Published: March 17, 2015 3:21:42 am

Even as the AAP government plans to relaunch the anti-corruption helpline, a Delhi court — while discharging 32 officials of the Sales Tax Department facing corruption charges due to a sting operation — has observed that it has “no hesitation” in holding the CD and video cassette containing the ‘sting’ as “totally inadmissible” in the “present case”.

The case relates to an audio-video recording made by the correspondent and cameraperson of a news channel.

The recording shows assessing authorities and other officials of the Sales Tax Department allegedly accepting a bribe.

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After the telecast in March 2005, the commissioner of the department approved lodging of FIR. The Vigilance officer (Sales Tax) then lodged the case against 33 officials.

“In view of the legal position regarding admissibility of electronic evidence, I have no hesitation in holding that the CD and video cassette seized in the present case are totally inadmissible. The contents, thereof, or the transcript prepared on the basis audio-video recording is inadmissible evidence on which no reliance can be placed,” Special Judge Narottam Kaushal said.

Raising concerns over sting operations, the court observed that in the “present era of advancement in science and technology”, chances of ‘morphing/manipulating of the footage cannot be ruled out’.

“What is audible and visible to a common man be a result of technological manipulation,” the court said.

Stating that the “sting has lost its venom”, the court reiterated that the Delhi High Court order (in R K Anand’s case) “had cautioned against the use of sting operations” for launching criminal prosecution.

In the present case, two CDs of the programme were handed over by the news channel during investigation.

The CD and voice samples of the accused were also sent to the Central Forensics Science Laboratory (CFSL).

“The legal position emerges that the chip or the memory card which originally contains the recording is primary evidence, and the CD of the same would only be secondary evidence. In the present case, primary evidence is not available and secondary evidence has been rejected,” the court observed.

The court has discharged the officials of charges of criminal conspiracy under the IPC and under provisions of the Prevention of Corruption Act relating to public servants taking illegal gratification and criminal misconduct by them.

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