Specimen signature and writing of the accused
It was pointed out that during investigation, even the Magistrate cannot direct the accused to give his specimen signature on the asking of the police and only in the amendment of the Code of Criminal Procedure in 2005, power has been given to the Magistrate to direct any person including the accused to give his specimen signature for the purpose of investigation. Hence, it was pointed out that taking of his signature/writings being per se illegal, the report of the expert cannot be used as evidence against him. To meet the above claim, learned Addl. Solicitor General heavily relied on a 11-Judge Bench decision of this Court in The State of Bombay v. Kathi Kalu Oghad and Ors., (1962) 3 SCR 10 : AIR 1961 SC 1808. This larger Bench was constituted in order to re-examine some of the propositions of law laid down by this Court in the case of M.P. Sharma and Ors. v. Satish Chandra, District Magistrate, Delhi and Ors., (1954) SCR 1077. After adverting to various factual aspects, the larger Bench formulated the following questions for consideration:
2. …On these facts, the only questions of constitutional importance that this Bench has to determine are; (1) whether by the production of the specimen handwritings – Exs. 27, 28, and 29 – the accused could be said to have been ‘a witness against himself’ within the meaning of Article 20(3) of the Constitution; and (2) whether the mere fact that when those specimen handwritings had been given, the accused person was in police custody could, by itself, amount to compulsion, apart from any other circumstances which could be urged as vitiating the consent of the accused in giving those specimen handwritings. … …
4. …The main question which arises for determination in this appeal is whether a direction given by a Court to an accused person present in Court to give his specimen writing and signature for the purpose of comparison under the provisions of Section 73 of the Indian Evidence Act infringes the fundamental right enshrined in Article 20(3) of the Constitution.
The following conclusion/answers are relevant:
10. …Furnishing evidence” in the latter sense could not have been within the contemplation of the Constitution- makers for the simple reason that – though they may have intended to protect an accused person from the hazards of self-incrimination, in the light of the English Law on the subject – they could not have intended to put obstacles in the way of efficient and effective investigation into crime and of bringing criminals to justice. The taking of impressions or parts of the body of an accused person very often becomes necessary to help the investigation of a crime. It is as much necessary to protect an accused person against being compelled to incriminate himself, as to arm the agents of law and the law courts with legitimate powers to bring offenders to justice. … ….
11. …When an accused person is called upon by the Court or any other authority holding an investigation to give his finger impression or signature or a specimen of his handwriting, he is not giving any testimony of the nature of a ‘personal testimony’. The giving of a ‘personal testimony’ must depend upon his volition. He can make any kind of statement or may refuse to make any statement. But his finger impressions or his handwriting, in spite of efforts at concealing the true nature of it by dissimulation cannot change their intrinsic character. Thus, the giving of finger impressions or of specimen writing or of signatures by an accused person, though it may amount to furnishing evidence in the larger sense, is not included within the expression ‘to be a witness’.
12. ….A specimen handwriting or signature or finger impressions by themselves are no testimony at all, being wholly innocuous because they are unchangeable except in rare cases where the ridges of the fingers or the style of writing have been tampered with. They are only materials for comparison in order to lend assurance to the Court that its inference based on other pieces of evidence is reliable. They are neither oral nor documentary evidence but belong to the third category of material evidence which is outside the limit of ‘testimony’.
In view of these considerations, we have come to the following conclusions:
(1) An accused person cannot be said to have been compelled to be a witness against himself simply because he made a statement while in police custody, without anything more. In other words, the mere fact of being in police custody at the time when the statement in question was made would not, by itself, as a proposition of law, lend itself to the inference that the accused was compelled to make the statement, though that fact, in conjunction with other circumstances disclosed in evidence in a particular case, would be a relevant consideration in an enquiry whether or not the accused person had been compelled to make the impugned statement.
(2) The mere questioning of an accused person by a police officer, resulting in a voluntary statement, which may ultimately turn out to be incriminatory, is not ‘compulsion’.
(3) ‘To be a witness’ is not equivalent to ‘furnishing evidence’ in its widest significance; that is to say, as including not merely making of oral or written statements but also production of documents or giving materials which may be relevant at a trial to determine the guilt innocence of the accused.
(4) Giving thumb impressions or impressions of foot or palm or fingers or specimen writings or showing parts of the body by way of identification are not included in the expression ‘to be a witness’.
(5) ‘To be a witness’ means imparting knowledge in respect of relevant facts by an oral statement or a statement in writing, made or given in Court or otherwise.
(6) ‘To be a witness’ in its ordinary grammatical sense means giving oral testimony in Court. Case law has gone beyond this strict literal interpretation of the expression which may now bear a wider meaning, namely, bearing testimony in Court or out of Court by a person accused of an offence, orally or in writing.
(7) To bring the statement in question within the prohibition of Article 20(3), the person accused must have stood in the character of an accused person at the time he made the statement. It is not enough that he should become an accused, any time after the statement has been made.