Delhi High Court on Monday issued notice to the Centre and the Delhi Government, while suggesting digital recording of witness statements and effecting recovery by the Delhi Police.

The suggestion was given by a Bench comprising Justice Vipin Sanghi and Justice IS Mehta after considering an action taken report filed on behalf of the Delhi Police. As per the report, from July, 2017 to June, 2018, a total of 2,38,070 cases have been registered and approximately 10,00,000 witnesses have been examined during investigation.

With such statistics, the Delhi Police had submitted that the existing technology, including the storage devices used by it sometimes become obsolete by the time the evidence is recorded before the Court. Thus, it finds it difficult to retrieve the data from such storage devices when needed.

It had therefore sought setting up of an information retrieval mechanism with cloud computing. This, the report said, would involve several issues of data security, hacking, ownership of clouds, access rights and other new form of digital red tapism.

Taking note of these concerns, the Court then suggested digital recording through wearable/ body cameras, observing, “The issues flagged by the Delhi Police in the status report, no doubt, would have to be addressed. However, in our view they are not insurmountable, and with the involvement of experts in the field, the said issues can satisfactorily be taken care of and answered. To begin with, it is possible that video recordings are made by use of body held/ wearable cameras, simultaneously while continuing to follow the existing procedure for recording of statements of witnesses/ disclosure statements and while effecting the recoveries, etc.”

It further clarified that it was not suggesting that digital recording of the proceedings conducted by the police, inter alia, under Section 161 Cr.P.C. should completely take over the existing mechanisms/ procedures. It, however, asserted that such a step would definitely be beneficial for the police force, noting,

“There is no gainsaying that the digital recording of the proceedings by the police would lend immense credibility to their performance, and instil the desired confidence in the Court as well as litigating public which, often, is missing.”

Furthermore, the Court highlighted the fact that storage of digital media in CDs, pen drives or the cloud takes far lesser space than what is required for preservation of manually recorded proceedings.

“We are also of the view that the storage of digital media– in whichever way it is stored i.e., on CD’s/ pen drives/ cloud, is far less space consuming than the space required for preservation of manually recorded proceedings/ statements on paper, which is presently undertaken. Thus, that cannot be an excuse, not to resort to digital recordings of the proceedings by the police.”

Besides, it opined that financial constraints should not deter the State from implementing these measures, observing, “We are conscious of the fact that any such move is bound to entail huge expenditure for the State, and would require putting into place a whole new system with the requisite hardware, software, training etc. It is for the State to arrange the funds–whether they are provided by the GNCTD or by the Central Government, depending upon whomsoever the responsibility falls.However, when the technology is easily available, in our view, issues related to availability of finances should not deter the State to implement the same in the larger public interest, and with a view to preserve and advance the rule of law.”

The Court therefore considered it appropriate to issue notice to the Commissioner of Police, the Secretary Home, GNCTD, as well as to Secretary, Ministry of Home Affairs, Union of India. The matter has now been listed on 10 September.

Case background

While ruling on an Appeal challenging a man’s conviction for wife’s dowry death and for subjecting her to cruelty, the Delhi High Court had, on 27 October, 2016, inter alia highlighted the unreliability of witness statements recorded under Section 161 of the CrPC. It had noted,

“The biggest problem in trials is the attributed unreliability of statements of witnesses recorded under Section 161 of Cr.P.C. When the witnesses are later confronted with their statements recorded by the police, the witnesses claim either that they had disclosed the materials which do not find mention in Section 161 Cr.P.C. statement or that they had never stated the pointed out aspects. As a result objections of improvements in testimony over the statements under Section 161 Cr.P.C. are sustained by courts.”

Thereafter, the Court was informed on 20 March, 2017 that a sub-committee had been assigned with the task of looking into the issue of video recording of statements under Section 161.

This sub-committee had expressed reservations with regard to the recording of statements under Section 161, opining that it might have legal implications. However, during a hearing in July this year, the Court had opined that video recording of such statements “would go a long way in establishing credibility of the investigation of the police officers, while at the same time ensuring that the truth was brought out before the court”.

It had then directed an action taken a report on the matter to be placed before it.