The role of a public prosecutor and his duties of disclosure
In a recent pronouncement in Siddharth Vashisht @ Manu Sharma V. State (NCT of Delhi) (supra) to which one of us (Sathasivam, J) was a party, the role of a public prosecutor and his duties of disclosure have received a wide and in-depth consideration of this Court. This Court has held that though the primary duty of a Public Prosecutor is to ensure that an accused is punished, his duties extend to ensuring fairness in the proceedings and also to ensure that all relevant facts and circumstances are brought to the notice of the Court for a just determination of the truth so that due justice prevails. The fairness of the investigative process so as to maintain the citizens’ rights under Articles 19 and 21 and also the active role of the court in a criminal trial have been exhaustively dealt with by this Court. Finally, it was held that it is the responsibility of the investigating agency as well as that of the courts to ensure that every investigation is fair and does not erode the freedom of an individual except in accordance with law. It was also held that one of the established facets of a just, fair and transparent investigation is the right of an accused to ask for all such documents that he may be entitled to under the scheme contemplated by the Code of Criminal Procedure. The said scheme was duly considered by this Court in different paragraphs of the report. The views expressed would certainly be useful for reiteration in the context of the facts of the present case:
216. u/s 170, the documents during investigation are required to be forwarded to the Magistrate, while in terms of Section 173(5) all documents or relevant extracts and the statement recorded u/s 161 have to be forwarded to the Magistrate. The investigating officer is entitled to collect all the material, which in his wisdom is required for proving the guilt of the offender. He can record statement in terms of Section 161 and his power to investigate the matter is a very wide one, which is regulated by the provisions of the Code. The statement recorded u/s 161 is not evidence per se u/s 162 of the Code. The right of the accused to receive the documents/statements submitted before the court is absolute and it must be adhered to by the prosecution and the court must ensure supply of documents/statements to the accused in accordance with law. Under the proviso to Section 162(1) the accused has a statutory right of confronting the witnesses with the statements recorded u/s 161 of the Code thus indivisible.
217. Further, Section 91 empowers the court to summon production of any document or thing which the court considers necessary or desirable for the purposes of any investigation, inquiry, trial or another proceeding under the provisions of the Code. Where Section 91 read with Section 243 says that if the accused is called upon to enter his defence and produce his evidence there he has also been given the right to apply to the court for issuance of process for compelling the attendance of any witness for the purpose of examination, cross-examination or the production of any document or other thing for which the court has to pass a reasoned order.
218. The liberty of an accused cannot be interfered with except under due process of law. The expression “due process of law” shall deem to include fairness in trial. The court (sic Code) gives a right to the accused to receive all documents and statements as well as to move an application for production of any record or witness in support of his case. This constitutional mandate and statutory rights given to the accused place an implied obligation upon the prosecution (prosecution and the Prosecutor) to make fair disclosure. The concept of fair disclosure would take in its ambit furnishing of a document which the prosecution relies upon whether filed in court or not. That document should essentially be furnished to the accused and even in the cases where during investigation a document is bona fide obtained by the investigating agency and in the opinion of the Prosecutor is relevant and would help in arriving at the truth, that document should also be disclosed to the accused .
219. The role and obligation of the Prosecutor particularly in relation to disclosure cannot be equated under our law to that prevalent under the English system as aforereferred to. But at the same time, the demand for a fair trial cannot be ignored. It may be of different consequences where a document which has been obtained suspiciously, fraudulently or by causing undue advantage to the accused during investigation such document could be denied in the discretion of the Prosecutor to the accused whether the prosecution relies or not upon such documents, however in other cases the obligation to disclose would be more certain. As already noticed the provisions of Section 207 have a material bearing on this subject and make an interesting reading. This provision not only require or mandate that the court without delay and free of cost should furnish to the accused copies of the police report, first information report, statements, confessional statements of the persons recorded u/s 161 whom the prosecution wishes to examine as witnesses, of course, excluding any part of a statement or document as contemplated u/s 173(6) of the Code, any other document or relevant extract thereof which has been submitted to the Magistrate by the police under sub-section (5) of Section 173. In contradistinction to the provisions of Section 173, where the legislature has used the expression “documents on which the prosecution relies” are not used u/s 207 of the Code. Therefore, the provisions of Section 207 of the Code will have to be given liberal and relevant meaning so as to achieve its object. Not only this, the documents submitted to the Magistrate along with the report u/s 173(5) would deem to include the documents which have to be sent to the Magistrate during the course of investigation as per the requirement of Section 170(2) of the Code.
220. The right of the accused with regard to disclosure of documents is a limited right but is codified and is the very foundation of a fair investigation and trial. On such matters, the accused cannot claim an indefeasible legal right to claim every document of the police file or even the portions which are permitted to be excluded from the documents annexed to the report u/s 173(2) as per orders of the court. But certain rights of the accused flow both from the codified law as well as from equitable concepts of the constitutional jurisdiction, as substantial variation to such procedure would frustrate the very basis of a fair trial. To claim documents within the purview of scope of Sections 207, 243 read with the provisions of Section 173 in its entirety and power of the court u/s 91 of the Code to summon documents signifies and provides precepts which will govern the right of the accused to claim copies of the statement and documents which the prosecution has collected during investigation and upon which they rely.
221. It will be difficult for the Court to say that the accused has no right to claim copies of the documents or request the Court for production of a document which is part of the general diary subject to satisfying the basic ingredients of law stated therein. A document which has been obtained bona fide and has bearing on the case of the prosecution and in the opinion of the Public Prosecutor, the same should be disclosed to the accused in the interest of justice and fair investigation and trial should be furnished to the accused. Then that document should be disclosed to the accused giving him chance of fair defence, particularly when non-production or disclosure of such a document would affect administration of criminal justice and the defence of the accused prejudicially.
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