The parameters governing the process of investigation of a criminal charge; the duties of the investigating agency and the role of the courts after the process of investigation is over and a report thereof is submitted to the court is exhaustively laid down in the different Chapters of the Code of Criminal Procedure, 1973 (Cr.P.C.).

Though the power of the investigating agency is large and expansive and the courts have a minimum role in this regard there are inbuilt provisions in the Code to ensure that investigation of a criminal offence is conducted keeping in mind the rights of an accused to a fair process of investigation.

The mandatory duty cast on the investigating agency to maintain a case diary of every investigation on a day to day basis and the power of the court under Section 172 (2) and the plenary power conferred in the High Courts by Article 226 the Constitution are adequate safeguards to ensure the conduct of a fair investigation.

Provisions of the Code that deal with a situation/stage after completion of the investigation of a case.

In this regard the provisions of Section 173 (5) may be specifically noted. The said provision makes it incumbent on the Investigating agency to forward/transmit to the concerned court all documents/statements etc. on which the prosecution proposes to rely in the course of the trial.

Section 173(5), however, is subject to the provisions of Section 173(6) which confers a power on the investigating officer to request the concerned court to exclude any part of the statement or documents forwarded under Section 173(5) from the copies to be granted to the accused.

The court having jurisdiction to deal with the matter, on receipt of the report and the accompanying documents under Section 173, is next required to decide as to whether cognizance of the offence alleged is to be taken in which event summons for the appearance of the accused before the court is to be issued. On such appearance, under Section 207 Cr.P.C., the concerned court is required to furnish to the accused copies of the following documents:

i) The police report;

ii) The first information report recorded under section 154;

iii) The statements recorded under sub-section (3) of section 161 of all persons whom the prosecution proposes to examine as its witnesses, excluding therefrom any part in regard to which a request for such exclusion has been made by the police officer under sub-section (6) of section 173;

iv) The confessions and statements, if any, recorded under section 164;

v) Any other document or relevant extract thereof forwarded to the Magistrate with the police report under sub-section (5) of section 173.

While the first proviso to Section 207 empowers the court to exclude from the copies to be furnished to the accused such portions as may be covered by Section 173(6), the second proviso to Section 207 empowers the court to provide to the accused an inspection of the documents instead of copies thereof, if, in the opinion of the court it is not practicable to furnish to the accused the copies of the documents because of the voluminous content thereof.

Voluminous content

Seizure of a large number of documents in the course of investigation of a criminal case is a common feature. After completion of the process of investigation and before submission of the report to the Court under Section 173 Cr.P.C., a fair amount of application of mind on the part of the investigating agency is inbuilt in the Code.

Such application of mind is both with regard to the specific offence(s) that the Investigating Officer may consider to have been committed by the accused and also the identity and particulars of the specific documents and records, seized in the course of investigation, which supports the conclusion of the Investigating Officer with regard to the offence(s) allegedly committed.

Documents that support Defence’s Case

Though it is only such reports which support the prosecution case that are required to be forwarded to the Court under Section 173 (5) in every situation where some of the seized papers and documents do not support the prosecution case and, on the contrary, supports the accused, a duty is cast on the Investigating Officer to evaluate the two sets of documents and materials collected and, if required, to exonerate the accused at that stage itself.

However, it is not impossible to visualize a situation whether the Investigating Officer ignores the part of the seized documents which favour the accused and forwards to the Court only those documents which support the prosecution. If such a situation is pointed by the accused and such documents have, in fact, been forwarded to the Court would it not be the duty of the Court to make available such documents to the accused regardless of the fact whether the same may not have been marked and exhibited by the prosecution?

In a pronouncement in Siddharth Vashisht @ Manu Sharma V. State (NCT of Delhi) (2010) the role of a public prosecutor and his duties of disclosure have received a wide and in-depth consideration of Supreme Court. The 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 the 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 absence of claim on the part of the accused

The absence of any claim on the part of the accused to the said documents at any earlier point of time cannot have the effect of foreclosing such a right of the accused. Absence of such a claim, till the time when raised, can be understood and explained in several reasonable and acceptable ways. Suffice it would be to say that individual notion of prejudice, difficulty or handicap in putting forward a defence would vary from person to person and there can be no uniform yardstick to measure such perceptions.

It is not for the prosecution or for the Court to comprehend the prejudice that is likely to be caused to the accused. The perception of prejudice is for the accused to develop and if the same is founded on a reasonable basis it is the duty of the Court as well as the prosecution to ensure that the accused should not be made to labour under any such perception and the same must be put to rest at the earliest.