Forcible narco test illegal, as bad as torture

Test

The Supreme Court today ruled forcible intrusion into a person's mind using scientific investigative tools like narco-analysis, polygraph tests and Brain Electrical Activation Profile (BEAP) as illegal, calling them as "cruel, inhuman and degrading" a treatment as the "blood-letting and broken bones" associated with third-degree methods used in interrogation.

In a blow to investigating agencies which routinely use these methods, a three-judge bench of Chief Justice of India K G Balakrishnan and Justices R V Raveendran and Dalveer Bhandari held in a 251-page judgment that the "involuntary administration" of these three investigative tools was in direct conflict with the constitutional right against "self-incrimination".

"We hold that no individual should be forcibly subjected to any of the techniques in question, whether in the context of investigation in criminal cases or otherwise. Doing so would amount to an unwarranted intrusion into personal liberty," the court observed.

The bench also felt that the "questionable scientific reliability of these techniques comes into conflict with the standard of proof 'beyond reasonable doubt', which is an essential feature of criminal trials".

While leaving room for the "voluntary administration" of the three techniques — provided there are safeguards in place — the court added that the confessions of suspects obtained even then would not be admitted as evidence because "the subject does not exercise conscious control over his responses during the administration of the test".

The court was deciding on a bunch of petitions filed by several accused persons, including 'Godmother' Santokhben Jadeja and Arun Gawli, against the use of narco-analysis, brain-mapping and lie-detector tests on them as part of investigation.

"If we permit the forcible administration of these techniques, it could be the first step on a very slippery slope as far as the standards of police behaviour are concerned," the Supreme Court said, adding that it was a must to recognise the importance of an accused's right to "the choice between remaining silent and speaking".

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