National

Relevance, not means, at the heart of Rafale review

In the Pooran Mal case judgment of December 1973, a Constitution Bench held that evidence which might have been obtained through unlawful means was nevertheless admissible, if it was found relevant to the case.

The Supreme Court on March 6 repeatedly asked Attorney-General K.K. Venugopal, appearing for the government in the Rafale judgment review case, to state the law on admissibility of “stolen” evidence in a court.

Mr. Venugopal has argued that the petitioners based their arguments on secret and sensitive information obtained through “unlawful/unknown sources.”

The law, it seems, is clear. In the Pooran Mal case judgment of December 1973, a Constitution Bench held that evidence which might have been obtained through unlawful means was nevertheless admissible, if it was found relevant to the case.

Justice K.M. Joseph, on the Bench led by Chief Justice of India Ranjan Gogoi, said India was unlike the U.S. He was apparently referring to the Pooran Mal case that discussed how obtaining of incriminating evidence by illegal seizure and search amounted to the violation of the Fifth Amendment of the U.S. Constitution. But in Pooran Mal, which stands unchallenged, the thrust is not on how the evidence is obtained, but whether it is relevant to the case.

“The test to be applied, both in civil and criminal cases, while considering whether evidence is admissible is whether it is relevant to the matters in issue. If it is, it is admissible and the court is not concerned with how it was obtained,” the court held.

India’s law of evidence is modelled on the rules of evidence that prevailed in English law, and courts in India and England have consistently refused to exclude relevant evidence merely on the ground that it is obtained through illegal means like a search or seizure, the Pooran Mal case verdict said. The judgment has quoted that “where the test of admissibility of evidence lies in relevancy, unless there is an express or implied prohibition in the Constitution or other law, evidence obtained as a result of illegal search or seizure is not liable to be shut out.”

Mr. Venugopal has argued that the documents, which were published by media outlets and upon which the review petitions were based, should not be considered at all. The petitions, based on “purloined” information, should be dismissed outright. However, the court has countered that it can look into the documents to see whether “a great crime like corruption has been committed.”

“Can the government seek shelter under national security and deny the court access to the information,” Justice Joseph asked Mr. Venugopal.

Justice Joseph asked whether the law of the country was broken by a corrupt practice, can the government cite national security and stop judicial examination of the evidence, whichever way it was obtained.

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Printable version | Apr 7, 2020 3:45:52 AM | https://www.thehindu.com/news/national/relevance-not-means-at-the-heart-of-rafale-review/article26488347.ece

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