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Cloned copy of the hard disk : Can court provide it to the accused

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Can court provide the cloned copy of the hard disk? The investigating officer refuses to provide a cloned copy of the hard disk. My colleague lodged an FIR that I have theft some sensitive data from the server and sold it to the third party. In the course of an investigation, the police officer visited our office and seized my laptop and extended hard disk.

The police officer has filed the charge sheet and found me guilty of the offence. My advocate prayed to provide the cloned copy of the hard disk and other data found in the storage devices. But the court refused to supply those documents and told that the accused has information about that evidence.

Question from: Delhi

When the court accepts the charge sheet from the investigating officer, it provides all the documents to the accused under Section 207 CRPC. The accused has the right to know the material evidence upon which the charge sheet was filed. this is a statutory right of the accused and court cannot ignore it.

Material evidence 

All the evidence collected during the investigation and which forms the basis of charge sheet are called material evidence. In your case, the charges have framed based on evidence found in the hard disk. Those are material evidence to prove your guilt and the prosecution wants to rely upon. 

Electronic evidence

All information stored in the electronic storage device like pen drive, hard disk etc are documented under the Evidence Act. Such a document is an important piece of evidence if it tends to prove the guilt. 

When the prosecution wants to rely on such electronic evidence, the court has to supply those evidence to the accused. Section 207 crpc makes it mandatory and the court cannot exercise its discretion. 

Information contained in hard disk 

Information contained in the electronic storage device is easily manipulatable. So accused must have an original copy thereof. The investigating officer should supply a copy of the original data to the accused. He should take a cloned copy by the competent authority like FSL (Forensic Science Laboratory) officers and must submit it to the court under section 173(2) crpc. 

Files stored in hard disk is a document

The data or information stored in the hard disk is a document under section 3 of the Indian Evidence Act & section 29 of IPC. There is a wide difference between document and statement. A statement is the personal opinion of the person but the document is a matter written or described on a substance.

The court cannot hold a document u/s 173(6) crpc

Section 173(6) crpc does not empower the investigating officer to hold any relevant documents. However, he can hold a statement if it is irrelevant or its disclosure is against the interest of justice. That principle of law does not apply in respect of the document. 

Such a document should be relevant

If that document tends to prove the crime then he has to supply those documents to the accused. The accused has a right to receive all relevant documents before commencement of trial. This is the basic principle of a fair trial. 

In Asha Ranjan vs State of Bihar (2017) 4 SCC 397 the Supreme Court held that the fair trial is a fundamental right under Article 21 of the Constitution. In the greater community interest and collective social order, the court should balance the right to a fair trial and privacy of the victim.

Section 207 crpc

The court must supply all relevant documents to the accused immediately after receiving the charge sheet. This is purely an administrative act and the court cannot exercise his discretion. Section 207 crpc mandates the court to supply all documents to the accused upon which prosecution wants to rely. 

Cloned copy of the hard disk

Cloning of hard disk is the only option to prepare a duplication copy of the hard disk which contains the original files. Each file has some information and that information must store in the cloned copy. 

Supply of cloned copy

When the court finds that prosecution wants to prove the crime by documentary evidence, it must supply a copy of those documents to the accused. The accused cannot defend himself in devoid of such document. 

Section 207 crpc makes such provision mandatory hence, the court is bound to supply the cloned copy of the hard disk.

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