Is it permissible for the prosecution to supply only part of police papers to accused in a criminal case, instead of supplying all the papers?
Answer: Before I answer your question, let me first refer to the relevant provisions of the Cr.P.C. which require supply of copies of papers of the investigation to the accused person. These provisions are contained mainly in Section 173, 207, 208 and 209 of the Criminal Procedure Code (Cr.P.C.). The relevant extracts of these sections are reproduced below:
“173. Report of police officer on completion of investigation.—
(5) When such report is in respect of a case to which Section 170 applies, the police officer shall forward to the Magistrate along with the report—
(a) all documents or relevant extracts thereof on which the prosecution proposes to rely other than those already sent to the Magistrate during investigation;
(b) the statements recorded under Section 161 of all the persons whom the prosecution proposes to examine as its witnesses.
(6) If the police officer is of opinion that any part of any such statement is not relevant to the subject-matter of the proceedings or that its disclosure to the accused is not essential in the interests of justice and is inexpedient in the public interest, he shall indicate that part of the statement and append a note requesting the Magistrate to exclude that part from the copies to be granted to the accused and stating his reasons for making such request.
(7) Where the police officer investigating the case finds it convenient so to do, he may furnish to the accused copies of all or any of the documents referred to in sub-section (5).
207. Supply to the accused of copy of police report and other documents.— In any case where the proceeding has been instituted on a police report, the Magistrate shall without delay furnish to the accused, free of cost, a copy of each of the following:—
(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:
Provided that the Magistrate may, after perusing any such part of a statement as is referred to in clause (iii) and considering the reasons given by the police officer for the request, direct that a copy of that part of the statement or of such portion thereof as the Magistrate thinks proper, shall be furnished to the accused:
Provided further that if the Magistrate is satisfied that any document referred to in clause (v) is voluminous, he shall, instead of furnishing the accused with a copy thereof, direct that he will only be allowed to inspect it either personally or through pleader in Court.
208. Supply of copies of statements and documents to accused in other cases triable by Court of Session.— Where, in a case instituted otherwise than on a police report, it appears to the Magistrate issuing process under Section 204 that the offence is triable exclusively by the Court of Session, the Magistrate shall without delay furnish to the accused, free of cost, a copy of each of the following:—
(i) the statements recorded under Section 200 or Section 202, of all persons examined by the Magistrate;
(ii) the statements and confessions, if any, recorded under Section 161 or Section 164;
(iii) any documents produced before the Magistrate on which the prosecution proposes to rely:
Provided that if the Magistrate is satisfied that any such document is voluminous, he shall, instead of furnishing the accused with a copy thereof, direct that he will only be allowed to inspect it either personally or through pleader in Court.
209. Commitment of case to Court of Session when offence is triable exclusively by it.— When in a case instituted on a police report or otherwise, the accused appears or is brought before the Magistrate and it appears to the Magistrate that the offence is triable exclusively by the Court of Session, he shall—
(a) commit, after complying with the provisions of Section 207 or Section 208, as the case may be, the case to the Court of Session, and subject to the provisions of this Code relating to bail, remand the accused to custody until such commitment has been made;
A perusal of these legal provisions makes it clear that:
(1) Section 173(7) of Cr.P.C. gives a discretion to the police officer to provide copies of all or any of the documents (including statements of witnesses) to the accused, if he finds it convenient.
(2) However, under Section 207 of Cr.P.C., it is mandatory for the court to provide copies of the investigation papers.
(3) Though the legal provisions laid down as above, in actual practice, it is the police officer who provides copies of the papers of the investigation to accused persons after filing of the chargesheet.
(4) As per Section 173(5) of Cr.P.C., the police officer is required to send to the court only those documents on which the prosecution proposes to rely and only those statements of witnesses whom the prosecution proposes to examine. Moreover, under Section 173(6) of Cr.P.C., the police officer can request the court to exclude certain statements or their parts from the copies to be given to the accused person by the court, for the reasons mentioned in that section.
(5) Section 207 of Cr.P.C. describes copies of what documents or statements have to be given to the accused persons. Basically, these include the chargesheet, the F.I.R., statements of witnesses, confessions and other documents of investigation on which the prosecution proposes to rely. While giving the documents to the accused, the court may not give copies of those statements for which the police officer has made a request under above-mentioned Section 173(6); however, the court may decide to give copies of such statements also if it considers necessary.
(6) Section 207 of Cr.P.C. further provides that if a particular document is very voluminous, the court may allow only inspection of the document instead of giving copy thereof to the accused person.
From the about discussion, it should be clear that ordinarily copies of all papers of the investigation (the F.I.R., the chargesheet, statements of witnesses, and other documents) are given to the accused persons. However, sometimes, copies of certain documents may be held back due to the reasons mentioned above. Likewise, copies of certain voluminous documents may not be provided to the accused persons, and instead, only the inspection may be permitted.
It may be pointed out that getting copies of the papers of the investigation is an important right given to the accused. It is also a basic principle of natural justice since the accused must know what charges he has to meet and what is the evidence that will be used to prove those charges. Any violation of this basic right of the accused may vitiate the trial procedure, depending on the nature of miscarriage of justice caused by such violation.
It may also be pointed out that, generally, the provisions relating to supply of copies of the paper of the investigation to the accused have been strictly interpreted by the courts in favour of the accused persons. For example, in the case of Jahid Shaikh v. State of Gujarat, (2011) 7 SCC 762, the Supreme Court held as under:
“The duty of the Sessions Court to supply copies of the charge-sheet and all the relevant documents relied upon by the prosecution under Sections 207 and 208 CrPC is not an empty formality and has to be complied with strictly so that the accused is not prejudiced in his defence even at the stage of framing of charge. The fact that many of the accused persons were not provided with copies of the charge-sheet and the other relevant documents, as indicated in Sections 207 and 208 CrPC, seriously affects the right of an accused to a free and fair trial.”
Thus, usually copies of all relevant documents need to be supplied to the accused, and it is only in the exceptional circumstances mentioned above that copies of a few documents can be withheld from the accused.