Criminal Law- Informant and Investigation Officer cannot be the Same Person- Supreme Court

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August 17, 2018

In this case taken up by the Supreme Court yesterday, the Court while referring to conflicting judgments has now categorically held that that a fair investigation, which is but the very foundation of fair trial, necessarily postulates that the informant and the investigator must not be the same person.

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Case name: Mohan Lal v. The State of Punjab

The Appellant has challenged his conviction under Section 18 of the Narcotic Drugs and Psychotropic Substances Act, 1985 (NDPS Act)  on the ground that the investigation was fundamentally flawed as the informant in the case was also the Investigating Officer (IO) in the same case.

Thus, the seminal issue that fell for consideration before the Supreme Court was whether in a criminal prosecution, it will be in consonance with the principles of justice, fair play and a fair investigation, if the informant and the investigating officer were to be the same person?

Bench’s Verdict

The Three-Judge Bench of the Supreme Court in the case while acquitting the Appellant, made the following observations in the case:

  • The Supreme Court while referring to catena of cases remarked that a fair trial to an accused is a Constitutional guarantee under Article 21 of the Constitution would   be   a   hollow promise if the investigation in a NDPS case were not to be fair or raises serious questions about its fairness apparent on the face of the investigation.
  • Reverse Burden of Proof in NDPS cases – The Apex Court also noted that unlike Criminal Jurisprudence, under the NDPS Act there is a reverse burden of proof.  In the nature of the reverse burden of proof, the onus will lie on the prosecution to demonstrate on the face of it that the investigation was fair, judicious with no circumstances that may raise doubts about its veracity. It was also observed that proof   beyond reasonable   doubt   will   take   within   its   ambit   a   fair investigation, in absence of which there can be no fair trial.
  • That in the circumstances, if an informant police official in a criminal prosecution especially when carrying a reverse burden of proof, makes the allegations, is himself asked to investigate, serious doubts will naturally arise with regard to his fairness and impartiality.
  • The Court also noted that in such cases it is not necessary that bias must actually be proved. It would be illogical to presume and contrary to normal human conduct, that he would himself at the end of the investigation submit a closure report to conclude false implication with all its attendant consequences for the complainant himself.

In view of the aforesaid, the Supreme Court held that a fair investigation, which is but the very foundation of fair trial, necessarily postulates that the informant and the investigator must not be the same person.

The entire case can be accessed here.

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