Electronic documents are admissible as material evidence. The computer generated electronic records in evidence are admissible at a trial if proved in the manner specified by Section 65B of the Evidence Act.
What is the relevance and authenticity of CCTV footage as piece of evidence was the issue before the Apex Court. In the instant matter, the trial court had convicted the accused persons under Section 302 read with Section 34 of the Indian Penal Code against which an appeal was preferred before the High Court. The High Court by impugned judgment confirmed the conviction and sentence.
Appellants before the Supreme Court contended that all the circumstances relied upon by the prosecution ought to be firmly established by evidence and the circumstances must be of such nature as to form a complete chain pointing to the guilt of the accused and the courts below ignored the conditions required to be satisfied in a case based on circumstantial evidence. It was further contended that non-production of CCTV footage being an important piece of evidence casts a serious doubt in the prosecution case and non-production of such best possible evidence is fatal to the prosecution case.
Admittedly, there was no eye-witness and the prosecution case was based on circumstantial evidence. An important circumstance relied upon by the prosecution and accepted by the Courts below was that the offence had taken place inside the privacy of the hotel room in which the accused and the deceased were staying together and only the accused had the opportunity to commit the offence.
To invoke Section 106 of the Evidence Act, the main point to be established by the prosecution was that the accused persons were present in the hotel room at the relevant time. CCTV cameras were installed in the prominent places of the Hotel and accordingly it was observed that CCTV footage would have been best evidence to prove whether the accused remained inside the room and whether or not they had gone out.
CCTV footage is a strong piece of evidence which would have indicated the presence of accused in the hotel. CCTV footage being a crucial piece of evidence, it is for the prosecution to have produced the best evidence which in the instant case was missing. Omission to produce CCTV footage, which is the best evidence, raises serious doubts about the prosecution case.
It was accordingly held that with the advancement of information technology, scientific temper in the individual and at the institutional level is to pervade the methods of investigation. With the increasing impact of technology in everyday life and as a result, the production of electronic evidence in cases has become relevant to establish the guilt of the accused or the liability of the defendant. Electronic documents are admissible as material evidence. The computer generated electronic records in evidence are admissible at a trial if proved in the manner specified by Section 65B of the Evidence Act. Secondary evidence of contents of document can also be led under Section 65 of the Evidence Act. Production of scientific and electronic evidence in court as contemplated under Section 65B of the Evidence Act is of great help to the investigating agency and also to the prosecution.
Non-production of CCTV footage, non-collection of call records (details) and SIM details of mobile phones seized from the accused cannot be said to be mere instances of faulty investigation but amount to withholding of best evidence. It was not the case of the prosecution that CCTV footage could not be lifted or a CD copy could not be made. As per Section 114 (g) of the Evidence Act, if a party in possession of best evidence which would throw light in controversy withholds it, the court can draw an adverse inference against him notwithstanding that the onus of proving does not lie on him. The presumption under Section 114 (g) of the Evidence Act is only a permissible inference and not a necessary inference.
Notwithstanding the fact that the burden lies upon the accused to establish the defence plea of alibi in the facts and circumstances of the case, prosecution in possession of the best evidence–CCTV footage ought to have produced the same. The instant case was considered as a fit case to draw an adverse inference against the prosecution under Section 114 (g) of the Evidence Act that the prosecution withheld the same as it would be unfavourable to them had it been produced.
It was further observed that where the case is based on circumstantial evidence, proof of motive will be an important corroborative piece of evidence. If motive is indicated and proved, it strengthens the probability of the commission of the offence. In the case at hand, evidence adduced by the prosecution suggesting motive was only by way of improvement at the stage of trial which would not inspire confidence of the court.
It was accordingly held that though the Apex Court would not interfere with the concurrent findings recorded by the courts below but where the evidence has not been properly appreciated, material aspects have been ignored and the findings are perverse under Article 136 of the Constitution, it would certainly interfere with the findings of the courts below though concurrent. Since the courts below ignored the importance of best evidence i.e. CCTV camera in the instant case and other gaps, upon consideration of the facts and circumstances of the case, the benefit of doubt was given to the accused and the conviction was accordingly set aside.
[Tomaso Bruno & Anr. vs. State of U.P.]
(Criminal Appeal No. 142 of 2015)