How To Prove Documents In Court?

Proving documents in court is essential for the basis of any argument in the court. While moots prepare us for the argumentation, producing evidence and documents is a skill which is often never taught during law school. Before answering the question in consideration it is important to answer two questions i.e. when a document is considered to be proved in court and what is documentary evidence. According to section 3 of the Indian Evidence Act, 1872 a fact is said to be proved when the court after consideration, considers it to exist. Further,

section 3 defines documentary evidence as “all documents including electronic records produced for the inspection of the Court; such documents are called documentary evidence.”

Chapter V of the Act classifies documents into various types depending on their nature. The nature of the document plays a crucial role in determining the procedure required to be followed in order to prove it in the court. Here is how various types of documents are proved in the court-

Public Document

A public document which has been defined in section 73 of the Act refers to any document which record the acts of the sovereign authority, of official bodies and tribunals, and of public officers, legislative, judicial and executive, or of a foreign country; and public records kept of any private documents.

In order to prove a public document in a court, one must arrange certified copies from the authorities. A copy is said to be certified when it has been signed by the authorized officer, along with his name, date and sealed when required. A certified copy of a public document, which one has a right to inspect, can be acquired on demand in return for a nominal legal fee.

Further, Section 78 of the Act enlists the nature in which various public documents can be proved.  They are –

Public Document Procedure followed to prove in court-
Act/ Order/Notification of central/ state govt. Certified records by the Head of the Department/ Ministry
Proceedings of legislature By producing documents published by the government
Proclamation by Queen/ Privy Council By copies or extracts of London Gazette
Municipal Body Proceedings Original/ published in book of authority/ certified copy by authorized officer.
Documents of foreign countries A certified copy by the notary or Indian diplomat certifying that the copy duly certified as per the rules of the specific country.

Private Document

According to Section 74 of the Act, all other documents which do not comprise as public documents are said to be private. That is any document which is not authorized by any kind of statutory body or government shall be considered private even if they are present in the public domain at large. Naturally, it is trickier to prove the legitimacy of a private document. In order to prove a private document three things need to be established i.e. –

1. Execution of the document– i.e. its existence by proving the legitimacy of the signature/ handwriting of the author of the document.

2. Establishment of Contents– what the document says/contains

3. Truthfulness of Content– the legitimacy of the contents of the document.

Execution of the document –

Execution refers to the process of proving that the signature and/or handwriting in the document are genuine. Proving the genuineness of a document does not amount to proof of truthfulness of contents. In certain circumstances such as when a document is duly signed by the central authority or dated 30 years ago, there is a presumption of genuineness as per Section 90 and Section 79 of the Indian Evidence Act. Further according to section 58 of the Act, no facts need to be proved if it has been admitted by the opponent or if it has not been directly contested by the opposition, unless the court demands the same. The sign or handwriting of a person may be proved by producing a document which may not be otherwise relevant to the cause of matter but acts only as a means of comparison in order to ascertain the authenticity under section 73.

Establishment of contents

The best way to prove the contents of a document is primary evidence i.e. producing the original document. However, if the original document cannot be procured the Evidence acts provides for instances when secondary evidence can be used. The special instances when secondary evidence can be used have been enlisted in section 65 of the Indian Evidence Act.

Correctness of the contents i.e. its truthfulness

The Supreme Court has held that establishment of contents of a document does not establish the correctness of the same, and hence if contended its truthfulness must be established. The same can be done by producing the author of the document if the truthfulness is contested.

How to prove Electronic Documents

In the 21st century, another extensively used source of documentary evidence is electronic documents. In light of the change in technology, there have been several amendments in order to remove the arbitrary method and establish a uniform method to prove them in the court. A list of the subsequent amendments is as follows –

Section of The Act Meaning/ Essence of the Section
22A Unless the genuineness of the electronic document is contented, oral admissions as to contents of the document are not relevant.
45A the opinion of the Examiner of Electronic Evidence referred to in section 79A of the Information Technology Act, 2000 (21 of 2000), is a relevant fact when the  court has to form an opinion on information transmitted or stored in electronic form
65B Deals with Admissibility of electronic evidence.
81A Presumption of genuineness of electronic document if produced from official gazette or legal custody.
88A An electronic message produced shall presume the computer from which the message was sent but shall not presume the person who sent the message.
90A An electronic record produced from five years ago shall be considered genuine by the court unless contested.
131 No person shall be compelled to produce against his will, any electronic record which he posses if any other person could refuse to produce the same.

How to prove electronic documents?

The Information Technology Act, 2000 added Section 65A and Section 65B to the Indian Evidence Act, 1872. Section 65 A lays down that in order to prove the contents of electronic records, the provisions of section 65 B must be followed.

Section 65 B states “shall be deemed to be also a document, if the conditions mentioned in this section are satisfied in relation to the information and computer in question and shall be admissible in any proceedings, without further proof or production of the original, as evidence or any contents of the original or of any fact stated therein of which direct evidence would be admissible”.

The conditions laid Section 65B are as follows –

1. The information produced must be acquired through lawful source or control over one’s computer.

2. The information is stored in the computer during ordinary course of the action.

3. That the computer was in proper working condition and the accuracy of the document could not have been tampered with.

Another important aspect of proving electronic record is proving the legitimacy of the digital signature. To prove the digital signature of any person one must produce a digital signature certificate from the certifying authority. According to section 47A of the Act, when the court has to form an opinion on the electronic signature, the Certifying Authority’s opinion becomes an established fact. Further sections 85B and 85C lay down that there shall be a presumption of genuineness of electronic signature certificate and the intent of the person who signed unless contrary is contested or proven.

[Note- this is not an exhaustive list as the Supreme Court of India has taken various stances from case to case basis.]

This article is authored by Ansha Bhagat, 1st-year law student at Gujarat National Law University, Gandhinagar.

Also Read – Under What Circumstances Secondary Evidence Is Admissible?

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