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Indian Case Summary

Selvi & Ors vs State Of Karnataka & Anr on 5 May, 2010 – Case Summary

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In the case of Selvi & Ors vs State Of Karnataka & Anr, the Supreme Court of India, presided over by K.G. Balakrishnan, R.V. Raveendran, and J.M. Panchal, addressed the legal implications of involuntary administration of scientific techniques such as narcoanalysis, polygraph examination, and the Brain Electrical Activation Profile (BEAP) test in criminal investigations. The case was heard as a batch of criminal appeals, including Criminal Appeal No. 1267 of 2004, and others arising out of SLP (Crl.) Nos. 10 of 2006 and 6711 of 2007.

The central issue revolved around the tension between the desirability of efficient investigation and the preservation of individual liberties. The court was tasked with evaluating the implications of these techniques in various settings, particularly focusing on their impact on the fundamental rights of citizens.

The court examined instances where accused individuals, suspects, or witnesses were subjected to these tests without their consent. The defense for such measures was based on the importance of extracting information that could aid investigating agencies in preventing future criminal activities and in situations where gathering evidence through ordinary means was challenging.

The court also scrutinized the argument that these techniques do not cause any bodily harm and that the extracted information would only be used to strengthen investigation efforts, not as evidence during the trial stage. The assertion was that improvements in fact-finding during the investigation stage would consequently help to increase the rate of prosecution as well as the rate of acquittal.

The court observed that the involuntary administration of these techniques raises questions about the protective scope of the ‘right against self-incrimination’ under Article 20(3) of the Indian Constitution. The court also considered whether the provisions in the Code of Criminal Procedure, 1973 that provide for ‘medical examination’ during the course of investigation can be read expansively to include the impugned techniques.

The court also addressed the scientific validity of these techniques, noting that their results are not entirely reliable. For instance, the narcoanalysis technique involves the intravenous administration of sodium pentothal, a drug which lowers inhibitions on part of the subject and induces the person to talk freely. However, empirical studies suggest that the drug-induced revelations need not necessarily be true.

The court also considered the professional ethics of medical personnel involved in the administration of these techniques. Furthermore, Article 21 has been judicially expanded to include a ‘right against cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment’, which requires the court to determine whether the involuntary administration of the impugned techniques violates this right.

The court concluded by framing the questions of law and outlining the relevant sub-questions, including whether the involuntary administration of the impugned techniques violates the ‘right against self-incrimination’ enumerated in Article 20(3) of the Constitution, and whether the involuntary administration of the impugned techniques is a reasonable restriction on ‘personal liberty’ as understood in the context of Article 21 of the Constitution.

The court’s observations and rulings in this case have significant implications for the use of scientific techniques in criminal investigations and the balance between efficient investigation and the preservation of individual liberties.