Nandini Satpathy vs. P. L. Dani and Ors.

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Nandini Satpathy v. P. L. Dani and Ors.
In the Supreme Court of India
Equivalent Citation
AIR 1978 SC 1025
Appellants
Nandini Satpathy
Respondent 
P. L. Dani and Ors.
Decided on
07 April 1978
Bench 
Jaswant Singh, V.D. Tulzapurkar and V.R. Krishna Iyer, JJ.

Background

Article 20(3) of the Constitution guarantees the right against self-incrimination to a person accused of an offence. While under section 161(1) of Cr. P. C., every person questioned by the police are required to answer truthfully, sub-clause (2) of the same section provides the right against self-incrimination to the person questioned. In this case, the legality of initiating proceedings under section 179 of IPC which provides for punishment for failing to truthfully answer a question asked by a public officer was questioned.

Facts

The Deputy Superintendent of Police (Vigilance), Cuttack, filed a complaint against the appellant, the former Chief Minister of Orissa, under section 179 of IPC before the Sub-divisional Judicial Magistrate, Sadar, Cuttack. The Magistrate took cognizance of the offence and issued summons for appearance to the appellant. Aggrieved by this, the appellant moved the High Court challenging the validity of the proceedings on the grounds that the charges against her were because of the appellant’s failure to police interrogation and that the appellant’s refusal to do so was covered under Article 20(3) of the Constitution and section 161(2) of Cr.P.C. The High Court dismissed the petition and the appellant preferred an appeal to the Supreme Court.

Issues

  • Does the right to remain silent extend to a person likely to be accused of an offence?
  • Does the bar against self-incrimination operate not merely with reference to a particular accusation in regard to which the police investigator interrogates, or does it extend also to other pending or potential accusations outside the specific investigation which has led to the questioning?
  • Does the constitutional shield of silence swing into action only in Court or can it barricade the ‘accused’ against incriminating interrogation at the stages of police investigation?
  • What is the ambit of the cryptic expression ‘compelled to be a witness against himself occurring in Article 20(3) of the Constitution?
  • Does being ‘a witness against oneself’ include testimonial tendency to incriminate or probative probability of guilt flowing from the answer?
  • What are the parameters of Section 161(2) of the Cr. Procedure Code?
  • Does ‘any person’ in Section 161 Cr. Procedure Code include an accused person or only a witness?
  • Does mens rea form a necessary component of Section 179 I.P.C., and, if so, what is its precise nature? Can a mere apprehension that any answer has a guilty potential salvage the accused or bring into play the exclusionary rule?
  • Where do we demarcate the boundaries of benefit of doubt in the setting of Section 161(2) Cr. P. Code and Section 179 I.P.C.?

Contentions

By Appellant

  • The term ‘any person’ in section 161(1) of Cr. P.C excludes an accused person.
  • Questions which form links in the chain of the prosecution case are prone to expose the accused to a criminal charge or charges since several other cases are in the offing or have been charge-sheeted against the appellant.
  • The right against self-incrimination protects the accused from revealing any information that he might apprehend to be incriminating.

By Respondent

  • Article 20(3), unlike S.161(2), does not operate until the case goes to court.

Judgment

With respect to the first issue, whether the right to remain silent extend to a person likely to be accused of an offence, the Hon’ble Court concurred with the decisions of the Privy Council and itself to hold that the scope of Section 161 includes actual accused and suspects. The Privy Council arrived at the same conclusion in Pakala Narayana Swami v. Emperor. The Supreme Court upheld the same in Mahabir Mandal v. State of Bihar [1972CriLJ860].

The Hon’ble Court held that: ‘To be witness against oneself is not confined to particular offence regarding which the questioning is made but extends to other offences about which the accused has reasonable apprehension of implication from his answer. This conclusion also flows from ‘tendency to be exposed to a criminal charge’. ‘A criminal charge’ covers any criminal charge than under investigation or trial or imminently threatens the accused.’

The Hon’ble Court took into consideration M.P.Sharma’s case and held that the guarantee under Article 20(3) would be available to those persons against whom a First Information Report has been recorded as accused therein. It would extend to any compulsory process for production of evidentiary documents which are reasonably likely to support a prosecution against them. The prohibitive sweep of Article 20(3) goes back to the stage of police interrogation-not, as contended, commencing in court only.

While deciding the ambit of article 20(3) of the Constitution with regard to the fourth issue, the Hon’ble Court held that insistence on answering is a form of pressure especially in the atmosphere of the police station unless certain safeguards erasing duress are adhered to. Frequent threats of prosecution if there is failure to answer may take on the complexion of undue pressure violating Article 20(3). Legal penalty may by itself not amount to duress but the manner of mentioning it to the victim of interrogation may introduce an element of tension and tone of command perilously hovering near compulsion.

Not all relevant answers are criminatory and not all criminatory answers are confessions. Tendency to expose to a criminal charge is wider than actual exposure to such charge. When relevant questions are loaded with guilty inference in the event of an answer being supplied, the tendency to incriminate springs into existence. In determining the incriminatory character of an answer, the accused is entitled to consider-and the Court while adjudging will take note of the setting, the totality of circumstances, the equation, personal and social, which have a bearing on making an answer substantially innocent but in effect guilty in import. However, fanciful claims, unreasonable apprehensions and vague possibilities cannot be the hiding ground for an accused person.

The Hon’ble Court answered the ninth issue in the affirmative. Section 179 I.P.C. has a component of mens rea and where there is no wilful refusal but only unwitting omission or innocent warding off, the offence is not made out. When there is reasonable doubt indicated by the accused’s explanation he is entitled to its benefit and cannot be forced to substantiate his ground lest, by this process, he is constrained to surrender the very privilege for which he is fighting. What may apparently be innocent information may really be nocent or noxious viewed in the wider setting.

The term section 161 of Cr. P. C includes accused persons as well as witnesses. Section 161(2) was held to be an extension of article 20(3) as it provides an accused the right against self-incrimination. The appeal was allowed and the prosecutory proceedings were quashed. 

Case commentary

In this case, the extent and applicability of article 20(3) of the Constitution and section 161(2) of Cr. P. C was in question. The Supreme Court while deciding the same held that the right against self-incrimination is available not only to a person who is accused of an offence but also to a person likely to be accused of an offence. The Hon’ble Court further held that the right becomes effective even at the stage of police interrogation.

Edited by Parul Soni

Approved & Published – Sakshi Raje