Understanding Panchnama: An Essential Tool in Criminal Investigation
A Panchnama is a crucial document in the criminal justice delivery system. It records certain events that occur in the presence of the Panchas (witnesses) and are seen and heard by them. The term “Panchanama” is derived from two words, “panch” meaning respectable person and “nama” a written document. The genuineness and accuracy of the investigating agency can be defined from the ‘Panchanama’ they have recorded during the investigation.
Types of Panchnamas
There are several kinds of Panchnamas prepared during an investigation:
- During search in a closed place (Cr.P.C section 100)
- Seizure (Cr.P.C Section 102)
- Recovery (Cr.P.C Section 174)
- Discovery (Evidence Act Section 27)
- Test identification parade
- Panchnama of crime scene
- Panchnama of Muddamal (seized property)
- Panchnama of identification of Muddamal
- Panchnama of the physical condition of the accused when arrested.
Arrest Panchnama is prepared when a person is arrested. It contains details about how and where he was arrested, his physical condition at the time of arrest, his personal belongings, etc.
Inquest Panchnama is prepared when a person dies under suspicious circumstances. It contains details about how he died, his physical condition at the time of death, etc. Inquest panchnamas are governed by Section 174 of the CrPC.
Test Identification Parade Panchnama is prepared when a suspect is identified by witnesses in a test identification parade. It contains details about how the parade was conducted, who conducted it, who were present during it, etc. The procedure for a test identification parade is primarily governed by Section 9 of the Indian Evidence Act, which deals with the relevancy of facts showing the existence of relevant facts. Additionally, Section 54 of the CrPC provides for the procedure of identification parades.
Panchnama of crime scene:
A document recording certain things which occur in the presence of the Panchas and which are seen and heard by them. It can be anywhere that may be related to the crime/offence and from where incriminating evidence is likely to be collected.
Panchnama of Muddamal (seized property):
A document having legal bearings which records evidences and findings that an officer makes at the scene of an offence/crime. It records the details of valuable articles such as golden or silver ornaments or articles studded with precious stones seized from the accused. If such articles belong to the complainant at whose house theft, robbery or dacoity has taken place, then seized articles be handed over to the complainant after preparing detailed proper panchnama of such articles; taking photographs of such articles; and a bond that such articles would be produced if required at the time of trial; and after taking proper security. The preparation of a panchnama for seized property is usually covered under Section 100 of the CrPC, which deals with the procedure for searches. Section 103 of the CrPC also provides for the panchnama to be prepared during the search and seizure process.
Panchnama of identification of Muddamal:
A document having legal bearings which records evidences and findings that an officer makes at the scene of an offence/crime. It records identification marks and articles found with the accused. The panchnama related to the identification of seized property is also covered under Section 100 and Section 103 of the CrPC.
Panchnama of physical condition of the accused when arrested:
A document recording what has happened in the presence of the witnesses (Panchas). It notes the appearance of the accused when he was arrested, his identification marks and articles found with him.
Relevance to Evidence Act
The relevant provisions of the Evidence Act related to Panchnama include Section 157, which allows former statements of witnesses to be proved to corroborate later testimony as to the same fact. A Panchnama can also be treated as a note or a record made by the Panch witness to refresh his memory under Section 159 of the Evidence Act.
Supreme Court Rulings on Panchnamas
The Supreme Court has made several rulings on Panchnamas. In a recent case, it ruled that ‘panchnamas’ would be deemed inadmissible in a court of law if they were prepared in violation of Section 162 CrPC. The court observed that witnesses to the panchnamas and the seizures acted as mere attestors to the documents and did not disclose in their own words as to how these objects were discovered, i.e., at whose instance and how. Consequently, these police-recorded proceedings lacked lawful validity.
In another case, Yakub Abdul Razak Memon v. State of Maharashtra through CBI Bombay (2013) 13 SCC 1, the court noted that “the primary intention behind the ‘panchnama’ is to guard against possible tricks and unfair dealings on part of the officers entrusted with the execution of the search and also to ensure that anything incriminating which may be said to have been found in the premises searched was really found there and was not introduced or planted by the officers of the search party.
The Indian Government introduced three new bills on August 11, 2023, to replace existing criminal laws, including the Indian Evidence Act. These bills propose increased use of electronic evidence and forensics during investigations, including video recording of search and seizure operations. This can serve as a more reliable and transparent form of evidence compared to traditional methods like Panchnamas.
These bills aim to bring a paradigm shift to the criminal justice system of India, ensuring speedy justice and maintaining the integrity of evidence for higher conviction rates and lower pendency. They have been referred to the Parliamentary Standing Committee for further deliberations. The report may be tabled in the next session of Parliament.
Panchnamas play a vital role in criminal investigations, providing a record of events witnessed by respectable persons during searches, seizures, recoveries, and other investigative procedures. However, their validity is contingent upon their preparation following legal procedures, as highlighted by recent Supreme Court rulings.
With recent developments proposing increased use of electronic evidence such as video recordings, it will be interesting to see how this impacts traditional methods like Panchnamas in future criminal investigations.
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