Question: During an investigation conducted by the CBI, it has taken a certified copy of a document from the Collector office and the original document was not seized. Can such certified copy be produced by CBI in the trial of the case instead of producing the original document? Will such certified copy be considered primary evidence of the document and be admissible in evidence?
Answer: Section 61 of the Evidence Act lays down that the contents of documents may be proved either by primary or by secondary evidence. Section 62 of the said Act, in brief, says that primary evidence means the document itself produced for the inspection of the court. Thus, the original document itself is the primary evidence which is required to be produced in court for its inspection.
Section 63 of the Evidence Act lays down five types of secondary evidence. Section 64 of the Evidence Act further lays down that documents must be proved by primary evidence except in the cases mentioned in subsequent sections. Therefore, a document is required to be proved by primary evidence, but in certain situations, a document can also be proved by secondary evidence. And, these situations in which secondary evidence can be produced are detailed in Section 65 of the Act.
Clause (e) of Section 65 says that secondary evidence may be given of the existence, condition or contents of a document when the original is a public document within the meaning of Section 74 of the Act. Section 65 further says that in such situation (i.e., in respect of a public document), a certified copy of the document, but no other kind of secondary evidence, is admissible.
Now, as per Section 74 of the Evidence Act, “public document” is defined as under:
“74. Public documents.—The following documents are public documents—
(1) documents forming the acts or records of the acts—
(i) of the sovereign authority,
(ii) of official bodies and tribunals, and
(iii) of public officers, legislative, judicial and executive, of any part of India or of the Commonwealth, or of a foreign country;
(2) public records kept in any State of private documents.”
It should thus be clear that a document maintained in the Collector office would be a public document.
Section 76 of the said Act lays down how certified copies of a public document may be given.
Coming back to your question, if the certified copy of the public document kept in the Collector office has been given to the CBI in accordance with the procedure laid down in Section 76, then such certified copy (which is secondary evidence) can be produced in evidence in accordance with provisions of Section 65(e) of the Act, as mentioned above, without producing the original document itself.
Therefore, the certified copy of the above public document maintained in Collector office can be produced in the court as evidence, without producing the original document, and such certified copy is admissible in evidence.
Of course, it goes without saying that admissibility of a document is one thing, and its reliability (i.e., how much trustworthy it is, and how much weight can be attached to it) is a different thing. But, as mentioned above, such certified copy of public document is admissible in evidence.