This article was written by Anisha Kumar, a student of ILS Law College, Pune
Documents are classified into two categories: public and private documents. When we talk about the evidential value of a document the first thing that comes to mind is the Indian Evidence Act, 1872 which lays down the basic rules governing the evidentiary value of documents admissible before Court. However, there are other acts which talk about whether a document can be admissible in court as evidence. The evidence Act approves two types of documents viz. Public documents and Private documents. As far as public documents are concerned, they are described and listed under Section 74 of the Evidence Act. Apart from the documents in Section 74 all other documents are private documents. Documents forming the acts or records of the act of the sovereign authority, namely, the parliament and the legislative assemblies, or of the official bodies and tribunals, and of public officers, legislative, judicial and executive, of any part of India or of the commonwealth, or of a foreign country, are public documents. Private documents which are registered in the public offices also become public documents.
INDIAN EVIDENCE ACT, 1872
Section 74 states that the following documents are public documents.-
“(1) documents forming the acts or records of the acts (i) of the sovereign authority, (ii) of official bodies and Tribunals, and (iii) of public officers, legislative, judicial and executive, (of any part of India or of the Commonwealth), or of a foreign country;
(2) public records kept in any State of private documents.”
Section 75 provides that all other documents are private documents.
This embryonic classification of public and private documents as per the Evidence Act simply describes a private documents as a document which is other than a public document. Therefore, it has been left to the Courts to decide which type of documents constitutes a private document through various judicial interpretations. The courts have also enumerated under what circumstances a private document can be taken on as evidence.
WHEN CAN A PRIVATE DOCUMENT BE USED AS EVIDENCE
The court answered the question of when a private document can be used as evidence in the case of Smt. Rekha Rana And Ors. vs Smt. Ratnashree Jain (AIR 2006 MP 107) wherein it was held that a private document cannot be used in evidence unless its execution is admitted by the party against whom it is intended to be used, or it is established by proof that it is duly executed. Due execution is proved by establishing that the signature (or mark) in token of execution was affixed to the document by the person who is stated to have executed the document. This is normally done either (i) by examining the executants of the document; or (ii) by examining a person in whose presence the signature/mark was affixed to the document; or (iii) by referring the document to a handwriting expert and examining such expert; or (iv) by examining a person acquainted with handwriting/signature of the person who is supposed to have written/signed the document; or (v) by requesting the Court to compare the signature of the executant in the document with some admitted signature of the person shown as executants; or (vi) by proving admission by the person who is said to have signed the document, that he signed it.
The Court has laid down that a sale deed is a private document in the cases of Jagannath Pershad Nigam v. Visheshwar Prasad [1977 (1) MPWN Item 210], Bhagwat Saran v. Man Singh [1986 (1) MPWN Item 59] and Gopal Sharma v. Savitri Devi Ojha [1994 (1) MPWN Item 192]. However, such a sale deed can be admitted in evidence only if it has been executed. Similarly a mortgage deed is also a private document. However, a certified copy of the mortgage deed cannot be admitted in proof of the transaction or the deed, unless further evidence is given to prove due execution and attestation of the mortgage. A Mortgage deed is a document requiring attestation under Section 59 of the Transfer of Property Act, whereas sale-deed is not a document requiring attestation.
Justice Charanjit Talwar, of the Delhi High Court, in the case of State vs Gian Singh, held that a post mortem report is not a public document as envisaged under the Evidence Act. Further, a post mortem report since it is not a public document cannot amount to proof of identity of the dead without producing the doctor in evidence. And such a post mortem report is merely a substantive piece of evidence.
ACTS OTHER THAN EVIDENCE ACT
Moving outside the scope of the evidence Act, the Food Safety and Standards Act, 2006 also gives recognition to private reports.
Section 44 of the Act deals with “Recognition of organization or agency for food safety audit” and states that the Food Authority may recognise any organization or agency for the purposes of food safety audit and checking compliance with food safety management systems required under this Act or the rules and regulations made there under.
Thus, under this section any authority recognized by the Food Authority which gives a report can be admitted as evidence, whether such an authority is public or private.
In contrast to this, Section 43 of the same Act states that the Food Authority may notify food laboratories and research institutions accredited by National Accreditation Board for Testing and Calibration Laboratories or any other accreditation agency for the purposes of carrying out analysis of samples by the Food Analysts under this Act. Thus, implying that only a laboratory accredited as mentioned above can submit a report for analysis of food thus excluding a private report from its purview.
The Indian Law Reports Act, 1875 in section 3 provide that a court is not bound to hear a citation of a legal report “other than a report published under the authority of any State Government”. So as far as proof of rulings of Indian courts are concerned, it is a question of authority and the Indian Law Reports Act mandates the court look into a report only published by a State Government. Thus, private law reports are clearly out of the question.
Section 60 of the Registration Act, 1908 deals with the Certificate of registration. Clause 2 enumerates that the certificate shall be signed, sealed and dated by the registering officer, and shall then be admissible for the purpose of proving that the document has been duly registered in manner provided by this Act.
Code of Criminal Procedure Act, 1973
Section 298, 331 and 337 of CrPC lay down certain cases where documents will be admissible as evidence.
Section 298 talks about how a previous conviction or acquittal is proved.
In any inquiry, trial or other proceeding under this Code, a previous conviction or acquittal may be proved, in addition to any other mode provided by any law for the time being in force, –
(a) by an extract certified under the hand of the officer having the custody of the records of the Court in which such conviction or acquittal was held, to be a copy of the sentence or order, or
(b) in case of a conviction, either by a certificate signed by the officer in charge of the jail in which the punishment or any part thereof was undergone, or by production of the warrant of commitment under which the punishment was suffered, together with, in each of such cases, evidence as to the identity of the accused person with the person so convicted or acquitted.
As per sub clause (2) of 331 which deals with “Resumption of inquiry or trial” when the accused has been released under section 330, and the sureties for his appearance produce him to the officer whom the Magistrate or Court appoints in this behalf, the certificate of such officer that the accused is capable of making his defense shall be receivable in evidence.
Under Section 337of CrPC if a lunatic prisoner is detained under the provisions of section 330 (2), and in the case of a person detained in a jail, the Inspector-General of Prisons, or, in the case of a person detained in a lunatic asylum, the visitors of such asylum or any two of them shall certify that, in his or their opinion, such person is capable of making his defense, he shall be taken before the Magistrate or Court and the certificate of such Inspector-General or visitors as aforesaid shall be receivable as evidence.
Section 331 of CrPC thus permits the private report of the officer certifying that the accused defense can be received as evidence. Even Section 337 allows a private report of a visitor of an asylum as admissible as evidence.
To conclude, what constitutes a private document can be understood as laid down in Section 75 of the Indian Evidence Act. This read together with judicial precedents in this regard gives an overview of documents which are private whose evidence can be taken on record. Further, it is pertinent to bear in mind that a private document can be admissible as evidence only if it has been executed. Apart from the Evidence Act, other legislations also specify whether a private report is admissible as evidence or not.