Nandini Sathpathy v. P L Dani, AIR 1978 SC 1025

Facts: Smt. Nandini Satpathy, a former Chief Minister of Orissa and one time minister at the national level, was directed to appear at the Vigilance Police Station for being examined in connection with a case registered against her under the Prevention of Corruption Act. On the strength of the first information report, in which the petitioner, her sons and others were shown as accused, investigation was commenced. During the course of investigation she was interrogated with reference to a long string of questions, given to her in writing. The major accusation against her was the acquisition of assets disproportionate to the known sources of income.

V.R Krishna Iyer. J, delivering the Judgment of the court held that the prohibitive sweep of Art 20 (3) goes back to the stage of police interrogation- not commencing in court only. The ban on self-accusation and the right to silence, while on investigation or trial under way, goes beyond that case and extends to the accused in regard to other offences pending or imminent, which may deter him from voluntary disclosure of incriminatory matter. The phrase 'compelled testimony' has to be read as evidence procured not merely by physical threats or violence but by psychic torture, atmospheric pressure, environmental coercion, tiring interrogative prolixity, overbearing and intimidatory methods and the like. However, the legal penalties that follow for refusal to answer or answer truthfully cannot be 'compulsion' under Art 20(3).

Followed the position of law in the US after the decision in Miranda case (1966) 384 US 436, which extends the right against self-incrimination to police examination and custodial interrogation and takes in suspects as much as regular accused persons. Held further that fanciful claims, unreasonable apprehensions, vague possibilities cannot be the hiding ground for an accused. He is bound to answer where there is no clear tendency to criminate.

The right against self-incrimination is best promoted by conceding to the accused the right to consult a legal practitioner of his choice which is Guaranteed by Art 22(1). The lawyer's presence is an assurance of awareness and observance of the right to self-incrimination.

What is 'self-incrimination': Answers, that would in themselves support a conviction are confessions, but answers which have a strong tendency to point out the guilt of the accused are incriminatory.

Therefore the right would commence from the time the person is named in the 'First Information Report' by the police.


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