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Selvi and Ors vs. State of Karnataka (2010) – A Critical Analysis


The Selvi vs. State of Karnataka case stands out as one of the landmark judgments in Indian jurisprudence, addressing the intersection of modern scientific practices and fundamental human rights. The issue was the validity of certain investigative techniques like narco-analysis, polygraph tests, and Brain Electrical Activation Profile (BEAP) tests as tools for gathering evidence.


The primary issue dealt with whether these investigative techniques violate Article 20(3) of the Constitution, which states that a person accused of any offense cannot be compelled to be a witness against himself.

Key Issues:

  1. Voluntariness of Consent: Whether obtaining consent for these tests ensures that they are not compelled and thereby permissible under the law.
  2. Reliability of Techniques: The scientific validity of these tests as means of ascertaining truth.
  3. Right to Privacy: Whether these techniques intrude upon an individual’s mental privacy.


  1. Involuntary Administration Unconstitutional: The Supreme Court held that forcibly administering these tests is a violation of the “right against self-incrimination” under Article 20(3) and also infringes the “right to life and personal liberty” under Article 21 of the Constitution.
  2. Consent Matters: The court recognized the value of consent, but even if consent is obtained, the test results by themselves cannot be admitted in court due to their unreliability. Moreover, the Court emphasized that many times, the ‘consent’ is not truly voluntary but is given under some form of duress.
  3. Unreliability of Techniques: The Court observed that these techniques aren’t reliably foolproof. There’s a risk of false positives and false negatives, which can lead to miscarriage of justice.
  4. Violation of Mental Privacy: The Court noted that forcibly intruding an individual’s mind violates the right to privacy, which, although not explicitly mentioned in the Constitution, has been interpreted as being a part of the right to life and personal liberty.


  1. Human Rights Upheld: This judgment ensured that invasive and potentially unreliable techniques cannot be forcibly used on individuals, upholding the sanctity of human rights.
  2. Guidelines for Investigators: The judgment set clear boundaries for investigators, ensuring that personal liberties aren’t sacrificed in the name of investigative zeal.
  3. Shift in Investigative Techniques: Post the judgment, there was a move towards developing and refining other forensic and investigative techniques that are both scientific and respect human rights.


The Selvi vs. State of Karnataka case serves as a testament to the Indian judiciary’s role in safeguarding individual rights in the face of modern scientific advancements. It ensures that the right against self-incrimination, a cornerstone of any democratic justice system, is not diluted by unchecked technological advances.

Shivendra Pratap Singh


High Court Lucknow

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