Involuntary narco tests an intrusion into a person’s mental privacy: Supreme Court

A view of the Supreme Court building in New Delhi. File   | Photo Credit: S. Subramanium

Involuntary administration of narco or lie detector tests is an “intrusion” into a person’s “mental privacy,” a Supreme Court judgment of 2010 has held.

The consequences of such tests on “individuals from weaker sections of society who are unaware of their fundamental rights and unable to afford legal advice” can be devastating.

It may involve future abuse, harassment and surveillance, even leakage of the video material to the Press for a “trial by media.” Such tests are an affront to human dignity and liberty, and have long-lasting effects.

“An individual’s decision to make a statement is the product of a private choice and there should be no scope for any other individual to interfere with such autonomy,” the apex court had held.

The judgment is significant amid reports that the Uttar Pradesh government wants to subject the Hathras rape and murder victim’s family members to these tests.

‘Restraint on liberty’

The judgment in Smt. Selvi versus State of Karnataka observed that involuntary administration of these scientific tests was “sufficient to constitute a custodial environment.” It amounted to a “restraint on personal liberty.”

“Law disapproves of involuntary testimony ... It violates the prescribed boundaries of privacy. Forcible interference with a person’s mental processes is not provided for under any statute It most certainly comes into conflict with the ‘right against self-incrimination’,” the over 250-page judgment, authored by then Chief Justice of India K.G. Balakrishnan for a three-judge Bench, observed.

Forcing an individual to undergo any of these tests violates the standard of ‘substantive due process’. A threat from authorities or police to employ such techniques creates mental trauma and may prompt a person to make incriminatory statements, the court reasoned.

The judgment dealt with the harm of involuntary administration of narcoanalysis, polygraph examination and the Brain Electrical Activation Profile (BEAP) test. The conflict was between the desirability of efficient investigation and the preservation of individual liberties.

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Printable version | May 18, 2021 3:26:52 AM |

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