- In a significant judgment, the Supreme Court on Friday held that a judicial magistrate is empowered to order a person to give a sample of his voice for the purpose of investigation.
- A three-judge Bench, led by Chief Justice of India Ranjan Gogoi, said directing a person to part with his voice sample to police was not a violation of his fundamental right to privacy.
- The judgment authored by Chief Justice Gogoi said “the fundamental right to privacy cannot be construed as absolute and must bow down to compelling public interest”.
- The Bench, also comprising Justices Deepak Gupta and Sanjiv Khanna, held that giving voice sample to an investigating agency was not a violation of the fundamental right against self-incrimination. Article 20 (3) of the Constitution mandated that “no person accused of any offence shall be compelled to be a witness against himself”.
- Chief Justice Gogoi, writing for the Bench, said giving voice sample by a person did not amount to furnishing of evidence against oneself. He reasoned that a voice sample was given for the reason of comparison with other voices in order to see if they matched and were of the same person. A voice sample by itself is not incriminating evidence.
- The Chief Justice compared a voice sample with other impressions like specimen handwriting, or impressions of his fingers, palm or foot collected by police during investigation.
- “By themselves, these impressions or the handwriting do not incriminate the accused person, or even tend to do so,” the judgment reasoned.
- Thus, the court said a voice sample by itself did not incriminate a person, and hence, a judicial order to give a such a sample did not infringe the fundamental rights to privacy or against self-incrimination.
87th Report of the Law Commission of India in 1980
- The 87th Report of the Law Commission of India in 1980 describes a voice print as a “visual recording of voice”. Voiceprints resemble fingerprints, in that each person has a distinctive voice with characteristic features dictated by vocal cavities and articulates.
- The court dismissed an argument that the making of such far-reaching interpretations in the Criminal Procedure Code – which is silent on whether a court can order a person to give voice sample to police – should be best left to the legislature.
- “Constitutional courts must be guided by contemporaneous realities/existing realities on the ground. Judicial power should not be allowed to be entrapped within inflexible parameters or guided by rigid principles,” the court justified its verdict.
- The judgment came in an appeal filed by Ritesh Sinha against a 2010 order of a magistrate court in Uttar Pradesh allowing police to get his voice sample. The police wanted to compare the voice sample with his alleged telephone conversations with his co-accused.