The Supreme Court on Tuesday ruled that it is not always necessary that an electronic record to be produced in a court of law be accompanied by a certificate from the concerned authorities authenticating it, as required by Section 65B(4) of the Indian Evidence Act.
A bench of Justices R F Nariman, S Ravindra Bhat and V Ramasubramanian said the “required certificate under Section 65B(4) is unnecessary if the original document itself is produced”.
“This can be done by the owner of a laptop computer, computer tablet or even a mobile phone, by stepping into the witness box and proving that the concerned device, on which the original information is first stored, is owned and/or operated by him,” the court said.
The court said that in cases where the computer is part of a “computer system” or “computer network” and it becomes impossible to physically bring such system or network to the court, then the “only means of providing information contained in such electronic record can be in accordance with Section 65B(1), together with the requisite certificate under Section 65B(4)”.
Section 65B(1) lays down certain conditions that would make a “computer output” admissible in evidence.
The court also took note of the fact that there may be situations where a person applies for the requisite certificate but authorities may refuse to give the same or may not reply to the request.
It said that in such a situation, “the party asking for such certificate can apply to the Court for its production under the provisions…of the Evidence Act, CPC (Civil Procedure Code) or CrPC (Criminal Procedure Code)”.
“Once such application is made to the Court, and the Court then orders or directs that the requisite certificate be produced by a person to whom it sends a summons to produce such certificate, the party asking for the certificate has done all that he can possibly do to obtain the requisite certificate,” the bench said.
The ruling came on a reference made to the bench in view of the legal uncertainty over two other rulings — Anvar P V vs P K Basheer and Others in 2014, and Shafhi Mohammad v. State of Himachal Pradesh in 2018.
Overruling the decision in the Shafhi Mohammad case, the bench also pointed out that Section 65B does not speak of the stage at which such certificate must be furnished to the court.
Clarifying the legal position, it said that though the Anvar P V decision was that such certificate must accompany the electronic record when the same is produced in evidence, “this is so in cases where such certificate could be procured by the person seeking to rely upon an electronic record”.
“However, in cases where either a defective certificate is given, or in cases where such certificate has been demanded and is not given by the concerned person, the Judge conducting the trial must summon the person/persons referred to in Section 65B(4) of the Evidence Act, and require that such certificate be given by such person/persons. This, the trial Judge ought to do when the electronic record is produced in evidence before him without the requisite certificate in the circumstances aforementioned. This is, of course, subject to discretion being exercised in civil cases in accordance with law, and in accordance with the requirements of justice on the facts of each case. When it comes to criminal trials, it is important to keep in mind the general principle that the accused must be supplied all documents that the prosecution seeks to rely upon before commencement of the trial, under the relevant sections of the CrPC,” the court added.
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