Tamil Nadu

Courts must presume people’s innocence, says Madras HC

Filing of an alteration memo is merely an information provided to the court about the route taken by the investigating agency, says High Court judge. File photo  

“It is legitimate for the police, given the kind of training imparted to them, to distrust and suspect everyone but courts must always start with a presumption that all persons are honest and innocent,” the Madras High Court has said.

Justice P.N. Prakash made the observation while quashing a First Information Report (FIR) booked against a 35-year-old clinical psychologist by the Greater Chennai police for having possessed both Indian and Swiss passports ever since he was a child.

The FIR had been booked in 2018 at the insistence of a Deputy Passport Officer who accused the petitioner of having made a false declaration in 2006, when the psychologist was a 19-year-old, that he did not possess citizenship of any other country.

However, on inquiry, the judge found that the petitioner had actually grown up in an orphanage in Chennai. According to his birth certificate, he was born on May 11, 1985. He was given in adoption to a childless couple in January 1986.

His adopted father was an Indian national and mother a Swiss national. He grew up with his father, a nationalised bank employee, who had obtained an Indian passport for him when he was less than 10-months-old and continued to renew it periodically.

Simultaneously, his mother had obtained a Swiss passport for him when he was a four-year-old and she, too, continued to renew it periodically. The petitioner had never used his Swiss passport to travel to any country during his childhood and even after.

As a 19-year-old in 2006, he got his Indian passport renewed after giving an undertaking that he did not hold any foreign citizenship. He was reportedly not aware of the Swiss passport, he claimed, and Justice Prakash found no reason to disbelieve him. The judge pointed out that the entire issue of dual passports came to light only when the petitioner voluntarily wanted to surrender his Indian passport in 2016 in order to obtain an Overseas Citizen of India (OCI) card. It was only after that a police complaint was lodged against him.

Holding that the petitioner did not appear to have committed any offence, the judge said the question of prosecution would not have arisen if he had gone to Switzerland with his Swiss passport and surrendered his expired Indian passport at the Embassy there.

The judge also stated that the Central Crime Branch police here could not be blamed for having registered an FIR because providing wrong information in a passport application would amount to an offence under the Passports Act of 1967.

“However, technicalities cannot put shackles in the hands of constitutional courts which do have the power to come to the rescue of an honest person in a given case as the present one,” the judge concluded.

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Printable version | Nov 28, 2020 8:41:52 PM | https://www.thehindu.com/news/national/tamil-nadu/courts-must-presume-peoples-innocence-says-madras-hc/article32912978.ece

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