Evidentiary Assessment of Private Documents

The destiny of private documents in the public file has always been questioned and has tested the legal intelligence. It turns out to be very applicable as various methods of verification and shifted assumptions are accommodated with private documents and public documents as mentioned under the Indian Evidence Act, 1872. The term ‘document’ is defined in Section 3 of the Evidence Act. According to the Section, “Document” signifies any matter which is demonstrated or detailed outline is given on any substance with the usage of figures, letters, or marks, or by more than one of such means, with an intention to be used, or which may be used, for the documentation of such matter.1 Section 3(18) of the General Clauses Act, 1897, and Section 29 of the Indian Penal Code, 1860 provides the same definition for the term ‘document’.

Documents can be of two kinds: private and public. Section 74 of the Evidence Act categorizes certain documents as public documents. They are2:

  1. Documents forming the statute, or documentation of the statute—

  1. of the self-governing jurisdiction,

  2. of administration and court of inquiry, and

  3. of public servant, administrative legislature, judicial authority and executive body, or of a foreign country, or of any part of Commonwealth or of India;

  1. Public documentation that are kept in any State of private documents.

Section 75 of the Evidence Act defines private documents as all other documents are private.3 This means that any documents which are not covered under Section 74 will be considered as private documents.

Contents of private documents can be proved either by primary evidence or by secondary evidence as described in Section 61 of the Evidence Act. Section 62 of the Act explains the evidence that will be considered as ‘primary evidence’ and Section 63 of the Act talks about the evidence that will be categorized as ‘secondary evidence’. The validity is set up by citing proof according to Sections 67 to 73 of the Indian Evidence Act, 1872; and the reality of their substance is normally settled by methods for free, immediate, or incidental evidence.

As explained by R.V. Raveendra C.J. in Smt. Rekha Rana v. Smt. Ratnashree Jain4, a private record cannot be utilized as any kind of proof except if its execution is conceded by the party against whom it is proposed to be utilized, or it is established by verification that it is appropriately executed. A private document must be demonstrated

  1. by inspecting the executants of the record; or

  2. by investigating an individual in whose appearance the signature/ mark was appended to the report; or

  3. by mentioning the report to a person who is an expert in examining and comparing the handwriting and inspecting such expert; or

  4. by analyzing an individual familiar with penmanship/mark of the individual who should have composed/marked the record; or

  5. by making plea in the Court to analyze the signature of the executants in the record with some conceded signature/mark of the individual appeared as executants; or

  6. by demonstrating affirmation by the individual who is said to have marked the report, that he marked it.

Opinions of the experts are considered to be paramount while proving the validity of private documents. Section 45 of the Evidence Act states that when the court has to form an opinion upon a point of foreign law or science or art, or as to the identity of handwriting or finger impressions, the opinions upon that point of persons specially skilled in such foreign law, science or art, or in questions as to the identity of handwriting or finger impressions are relevant facts. Such persons are called experts.5 This point was made clear by the SC in Murari Lal v State of M.P,6 where the Court held that it is not the duty of the court to compare the writing itself, it would be expected that it is the job of an expert itself. The court must compare the document and conclude. The opinion of the expert is only to guide the court in the right direction. Another judgment was given by the Supreme Court in Ajit savant v State,7 where the court observed that the court proceedings are very lengthy and if the court will start comparing it by itself it will only make the process even slower. In that case the court must rely on the wisdom and opinions of the experts and the expert’s opinion should not be replaced by the court’s opinion.

To summarize, the verification of the validity of a private document is considered in Section 59 interpreted with Section 67 to 73 of the Indian Evidence Act, 1872. The principles epitomized in Section 61 to 66 deals the validity of the contents of the private documents. In the end, the genuineness and the truthfulness of the private documents can be proved with the help of oral evidence and either by citing primary or secondary evidence.


1 Section 3 in The Indian Evidence Act, 1872

2 Section 74 in The Indian Evidence Act, 1872

3 Section 75 in The Indian Evidence Act, 1872

4 AIR 2006 MP 107

5 Section 45 in the Evidence Act, 1872

6 AIR 1980 SC 531

7 AIR 1997 SC 3255

This article is authored by Harshita Agarwal, First-Year, L.L.B.(Hons.) specialization in IPR, student at Rajiv Gandhi School of Intellectual Property Law, IIT Kharagpur.

Also Read – Under What Circumstances Secondary Evidence Is Admissible?

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