PUBLIC PROSECUTOR A P Vs. POCKU SYED ISMAIL
HIGH COURT OF ANDHRA PRADESH
PUBLIC PROSECUTOR (A.P.)
POCKU SYED ISMAIL
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(1.) In this criminal revision petition by the Assistant Collector, Central Excise and Customs the question that arises for consideration is, whether a Public Officer could be compelled to discloses a communication made to him informing the commission of an offence against public revenue. The respondents have been accused of offences punishable under Section 135(b), (i) of the Customs Act and Sec.85(ii) read with Sec. 8(i) of the Gold Control Act. It is alleged in the complaint that on 9-6-70 at about 6 A.M. the accused were found in possession of contraband gold imported from foreign countries contrary to the provisions of the Customs Act and the provisions of the Gold Control Act After some witnesses were examined in support of the complaint M.P. No. 119 of 71 was filed by the Counsel for the accused under Section 94, Criminal Procedure Code, requesting the Court to summon certain documents from the custody of the Central Excise Department so as to enable him to further cross- examine the prosecution witnesses, one of the documents being the information received by the Assistant Collector. Central Excise, which formed the basis for issuing a search warrant and which ultimately enabled the Central Excise Officials to seize the contraband gold from the premises of the accused. In regard to this document, privilege was claimed under Section 125 of the Indian EVIDENCE ACT, 1872. The Court directed the said information to be submitted to it in a sealed cover. The Collector, Central Excise and Customs, submitted the document in a sealed cover and once again claimed privilege under Section 125 of the EVIDENCE ACT, 1872. The learned Magistrate held that the privilege cannot be claimed in regard to disclosing the contents of the information, and that only the source of the information may be withheld. In that view he directfd that the contents of the information may be disclosed to the accused after excluding the sources of information and thus rejected the privilege claimed by the Central Excise Authority under Sections 124 and 125 of the EVIDENCE ACT, 1872. That order has been upheld by the learned Sessions Judge an revision.
(2.) Section 125 prohibits any authority from compelling a Magistrate or a Police Officer to say whence he got an information as to the commission of an offence and clothes a Revenue Officer also with the same privilege in so far as it relates to the commission of any offence against public revenue in the following terms :
"No Magistrate or Police Officer shall be compelled to say whence be got any information as to the commission of any offence, and no revenue officer shall be compelled to say whence he got any information as to the commission of any offence against the public revenue." Explanation :- "Revenue Officer" in this section means any officer employed in or about the business of any branch of the public revenue." Central Excise Authorities, from the nature of the duty they perform, are revenue officers within the meaning of Sec. 1 25. Therefore, they are entitled to claim privilege to the extent mentioned in Section 125, But the privilege which they claim under section 125 does not extend to withholding the information as to the commission of the offence itself. The privilege claimed is limited to the source from which they get the information as to the commission of any offence against the public revenue and not in regard to the contents of the information. In the instant case, the learned Magistrate has directed that while the contents of the information given to the Central Excise Collector may be disclosed to the accused, he has taken care to withhold from the accused any information as to the person who gave the information to the Central Excise authorities, The order of the Magistrate, thus wholly complies with the requirements of Section 125 and does not call for any interference.
(3.) It, was, however, argued by the learned Public Prosecutor that even the communication to the public officer, viz., the Central Excise Authorities, cannot be compelled to be disclosed, for it was made in official confidence, when such public officer considers that the public interest would suffer by the disclosures In other words, what is contended is that what was communicated by a private person disclosing information as to the commission of an offence is itself a communication made in official confidence. A Bench of this Court in State of A P. Vs. Appanna held at page 259 :
"The words 'official confidence' indicate that the section applies to communications from one public officer to another public officer, in the discharge of their duties and not to communications to such officers by outsiders. Communications in official confidence, though they import no special degree of secrecy or protection, include generally all matters communicated by one officer to another in the performance of his duties.";
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