Nandini Satpathy – former Chief Minister of Orissa – against whom a case had been registered under the Prevention of Corruption Act, was asked to appear before the Deputy Superintendent of Police [Vigilance] for questioning. The police wanted to interrogate her by giving her a string of questions in writing. She refused to answer the questionnaire, on the grounds that it was a violation of her fundamental right against self-incrimination. The police insisted that she must answer their questions and booked her under Section 179 of the Indian Penal Code, 1860, which prescribes punishment for refusing to answer any question asked by a public servant authorised to ask that question. The issue before the Supreme Court was whether Nandini Satpathy had a right to silence and whether people can refuse to answer questions during investigation that would point towards their guilt.
Supreme Court Observations:
Article 20 (3) of the Constitution lays down that no person shall be compelled to be a witness against her/himself. Section 161 (2) of the Code of Criminal Procedure, 1973 [CrPC], casts a duty on a person to truthfully answer all questions, except those which establish personal guilt to an investigating officer.
The Supreme Court accepted that there is a rivalry between societal interest in crime detection and the constitutional rights of an accused person. They admitted that the police had a difficult job to do especially when crimes were growing and criminals were outwitting detectives. Despite this, the protection of fundamental rights enshrined in our Constitution is of utmost importance, the Court said. In the interest of protecting these rights,we cannot afford to write off fear of police torture leading to forced self incrimination.
While any statement given freely and voluntarily by an accused person is admissible and even invaluable to an investigation, use of pressure whether ?subtle or crude, mental or physical, direct or indirect but sufficiently substantial? by the police to get information is not permitted as it violates the constitutional guarantee of fair procedure. The Supreme Court affirmed that the accused has a right to silence during interrogation if the answer exposes her/him into admitting guilt in either the case under investigation or in any other offence. They pointed out that ground realities were such that a police officer is a commanding and authoritative figure and therefore, clearly in a position to exercise influence over the accused.
Supreme Court Directives
1. An accused person cannot be coerced or influenced into giving a statement pointing to her/his guilt.
2. The accused person must be informed of her/his right to remain silent and also of the right against self incrimination.
3. The person being interrogated has the right to have a lawyer by her/his side if she/he so wishes.13
4. An accused person must be informed of the right to consult a lawyer at the time of questioning, irrespective of the fact whether s/he is under arrest or in detention.
5. Women should not be summoned to the police station for questioning in breach of Section 160 (1) CrPC.14
An essential element of a fair trial is that the accused cannot be forced to give evidence against her/himself. Forcing suspects to sign statements admitting their guilt violates the constitutional guarantee against self incrimination and breaches provisions of the Code of Criminal Procedure, 1973 (CrPC). It is also inadmissible as evidence in a court of law. In addition, causing hurt to get a confession is punishable by imprisonment up to seven years.
Here is the judgment: Nandini Satpathy Vs PL Dani: Right Against Self Incrimination