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Report No. 69

III. Meaning of Documents Forming Acts

34.13. Meaning of Act or Records-case of Income tax returns.-

We first take up the expression "documents forming the acts or records of the acts", which is the crucial expression in the first half of the section. Some controversy seems to have arisen in the context of Income-tax returns. Broadly speaking, the controversy is rested on the question whether a document prepared by a private person and submitted to a public officer can fall within the quoted words. One view on the subject is that the section contemplates that the document must be prepared by the public officer or under his directions. Accordingly, if a private person has submitted a paper to the public officer, that is not an act or record of the public officer. In the Madras High Court, this view prevailed for some time, but this was later overruled in a Full Bench Madras case.1 The essence of the reasoning of Leach C.J. in the later Madras case is indicated by the following passage, quoted from the judgement of the Full Bench :

"If the argument, that an income-tax return is not a public document, but that the order passed thereon is, were carried to its logical conclusion, it would mean that no part of the record of a civil suit could be regarded as constituting a public document except evidence recorded by the Court or summonses or notices or interlocutory orders or the judgement in the case. In 25 W.R. 68 Garth C.J. and Birch J, expressly held that a petition which was the subject-matter of an order passed was part of the record in the suit, and I do not think that this can reasonably be doubted.

In my judgement, it would be putting an unwarranted restriction on the words "documents forming the acts or records of the acts" to say that they should be confined to those parts of an income-tax record which the Income-tax Officer has himself prepared and to exclude documents which he has himĀ¬self called for or which have been admitted to the record for the purposes of the assessment. I consider that the record of an Income-tax case must be regarded as the record of the acts of the Income-tax Officer in making his assessment and, therefore, that any document properly on the record is just as much a public document as the final order of assessment."

1. See discussion in Narasimha Rama Rao v. Venkatarama A.I.R. 1940 Mad. 76$, 775 IF.B.).

34.14. Meaning of "act".-

This view may be contrasted with an earlier Madras case. In that case,1 the meaning of the expression "act" (in section 74) came up for construction. The precise question was, whether papers forwarded to a magistrate by a police officer under certain sections of the Code of Criminal Procedur.- mainly, sections dealing with preliminary measures in the course of investigation,- were public documents. and it was held by a majority that they were not. In coming to this conclusion, the majority construed section 74 in a narrow manner. The following extract from the judgement of Shephard, J. gives, in a fair measure, the reasoning on which the majority judgement is based:-

"In construing that section, I think it may fairly be supposed that the word "act" in the phrase 'document forming the acts or records of the acts' is used in one and the same sense. The act of which the record made is a public document must be similar in kind to the act which takes shape and form in a public document. The kind of acts which section 74 has in view is indicated by section 78 of the same Act. The acts there mentioned are all final completed act.2 as distinguished from acts of a preparatory or tentative character. The inquiries which a public officer may make, whether under the Criminal Procedure Code or otherwise, may or may not result in action. There may be no publicity about them. There is a substantial distinction between such measures and the specific act in which they may result.

It is to the latter only, in my opinion, that section 74 was intended to refer. Unless this line of distinction is drawn, I do not see where the right of discovery is to stop. If the report which a subordinate police officer sends to the station-house officer may be inspected before the trial. what is there to prevent inspection of the report which any other officer furnishes for the information of the public prosecutor ? It is true that the police officer acts in performance of a statutory duty, but section 74 makes no distinction between such acts and other official acts. If an investigation amounts to an act of a public officer within the meaning of that section. and the report of it is, in consequence, a public document, it practically follows that the accused is at liberty to look into the brief of the counsel for the prosecution."

1. Queen Empress v. Arumugam, (1896) I.L.R. 20 Mad. 189, 197 (F.B.).

2. Emphasis supplied.

34.15. No Change needed.-

We have considered this reasoning carefully, but we are of the view that such a narrow construction is not intended by the section. In our opinion, the later case1 takes the correct view. We do not recommend any amendment in this regard, as it would not be easy to frame a clarification of a general nature.

1. Narsimha Rama Rao v.Venkataramayya, AIR 1940 Mad 768 (755) (Supra).

IV. Plaints Etc.

34.16. Pleadings.-

Another controversy pertaining to section 74 may, however, be mentioned. as it deals with an important matter which is of a recurring nature and of practical importance. There is a difference of opinion as to whether plaints and written statements are public documents. According to one view, pleadings are not public documents, and so a certified copy of a plaint is not admissible in evidence.1-2 A plaint is not a public document, according to the Oudh view.3 A Patna case4 holds that sub-section (2) of section 74 can, in no way, include a plaint. The plaint is neither an act nor the record of an act of any public officer.

1. Akshoy Kumar v. Sukumar, AIR 1951 Cal 320 (321).

2. Manbodh v. Jurasia, AIR 1926 Nag 339 (348).

3. Ahmad Khan v. Hurmuz, AIR 1921 Oudh 81.

4. Gulab Chand v. Shee Karam Lai, AIR 1964 Pat 45 (48, 49) (DB).

34.17. Section 74 and pleadings.-

According to the Calcutta view1, under Section 74, pleadings and other papers in a case do not appear to fall under public documents". A contrary view was taken in an earlier case.2

In Madras3, the view adopted seems to have been that plaints and written statements are public documents.

1. Shahzada v. Wedgeberry, (1873) 10 Bengal Law Reports, App 31, cited in Woodroffe and Amir Ali Evidence, (1958), Vol. 2, p. 876.

2. See Woodcroffe and Amir Ali Evidence, (1958), Vol. 2, p. 876.

3. Narasimha Rama Rao v. Venkataramayya, AIR 1940 Mad 768 (FB).

34.18. Need for clarification.-

A clarification on this particular point would be desirable. Our view is that it is desirable that plaints, written statements, petitions and other papers filed by parties in a court should be regarded as public documents, so that under section 76, if a person has a right to inspect the paper in question, a certified copy of the document can be given. This would avoid the necessity 'of producing the original in a subsequent case, and thereby save a lot of avoidable shifting of judicial records. Moreover, the reasoning which we have quoted from the Madras case1 suggests that this would be the logical view to take.

1. Narasimha Rama Rao v. Venkataramayya, AIR 1940 Mad 768 (supra)--discussion regarding "Meaning of Acts", etc.

V. Recommendation

34.19. Recommendation.-

In the light of the above discussion, we recommend that section 74 should be amended by inserting the following Explanation at the rid of the section:-

"Explanation.-Records forming part of a case leading to a judgment of a court or an order of a public officer, if the order is pronounced judicially, are themselves public documents."

VI. Section 75

34.20. Section 75.-

Section 74 having defined public documents, section 75 provides that all other documents are private documents. It needs no change.

Indian Evidence Act, 1872 Back

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