Nandini Sathpathy v. P L Dani

Nandini Sathpathy v. P L Dani

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Citation: AIR 1978 SC 1025

Bench: Jaswant Singh, V.D. Tulzapurkar and V.R. Krishna Iyer, JJ.


The Deputy Superintendent of Police (Vigilance), Cuttack, filed a complaint against the Nandini Sathpathy, the former Chief Minister of Orissa, under section 179 of IPC before the Sub-divisional Judicial Magistrate, Sadar, Cuttack. The Magistrate took cognizance of the offence and issued summons for appearance to the appellant. Aggrieved by this, the appellant moved the High Court challenging the validity of the proceedings on the grounds that the charges against her were because of the appellant’s refusal to answer certain questions during police interrogation and that the appellant’s refusal to do so was covered under Article 20(3) of the Constitution and section 161(2) of Cr.P.C. The High Court dismissed the petition and the appellant preferred an appeal to the Supreme Court.


  1. Does the right to remain silent extent to a person who is likely to be accused of crimes i.e. a suspect accused?
  2. Does the bar against self-incrimination operate not merely with reference to a particular accusation in regard to which the police investigator interrogates, or does it extend also to other pending or potential accusations outside the specific investigation which has led to the questioning?
  • Does the constitutional shield of silence swing into action only in Court or can it barricade the ‘accused’ against incriminating interrogation at the stages of police investigation?
  1. What is the ambit of the cryptic expression ‘compelled to be a witness against himself’ occurring in Article 20(3) of the Constitution?
  2. Does being ‘a witness against oneself’ include testimonial tendency to incriminate or probative probability of guilt flowing from the answer?
  3. What are the parameters of Section 161(2) of the CrPc?
  • Does ‘any person’ in Section 161 Cr. Procedure Code include an accused person or only a witness?
  • When does an answer self-incriminate or tend to expose one to a charge?
  1. Does mens rea form a necessary component of section 179 I.P.C., and, if so, what is its precise nature? Can a mere apprehension that any answer has a guilty potential salvage the accused or bring into play the exclusionary rule?
  2. Where do we demarcate the boundaries of benefit of doubt in the setting of section 161(2) Cr.P.C and Section 179 I.P.C.?


With respect to the first issue, as to whether the right to remain silent extend to a person likely to be accused of an offence, the Hon’ble Court concurred with the decisions of the Privy Council and itself to hold that the scope of Section 161 includes actual accused and suspects. It reasoned that ‘To be witness against oneself is not confined to particular offence regarding which the questioning is made but extends to other offences about which the accused has reasonable apprehension of implication from his answer.’ Moreover, Section 161(2) was held to be an extension of article 20(3) as it provides an accused the right against self-incrimination

The Court held that the prohibitive sweep of Art 20 (3) goes back to the stage of police interrogation- not commencing in court only. The ban on self-accusation and the right to silence, while on investigation or trial under way, goes beyond that case and extends to the accused in regard to other offences pending or imminent, which may deter him from voluntary disclosure of incriminatory matter. The phrase ‘compelled testimony’ has to be read as evidence procured not merely by physical threats or violence but by psychic torture, atmospheric pressure, environmental coercion, tiring interrogative prolixity, overbearing and intimidatory methods and the like. However, the legal penalties that follow for refusal to answer or answer truthfully cannot be ‘compulsion’ under Art 20(3).

It also followed the position of law in the US after the decision in Miranda case (1966) 384 US 436, which extends the right against self-incrimination to police examination and custodial interrogation and takes in suspects as much as regular accused persons. Further, it held that fanciful claims, unreasonable apprehensions, vague possibilities cannot be the hiding ground for an accused. He is bound to answer where there is no clear tendency to criminate.

The apex court also issued directives regarding the rights of the accused persons;

  1. An accused person cannot be coerced or influenced into giving a statement pointing to her/his guilt.
  2. The accused person must be informed of her/his right to remain silent and also of the right against self incrimination.
  3. The person being interrogated has the right to have a lawyer by her/his side if she/he so wishes.13
  4. An accused person must be informed of the right to consult a lawyer at the time of questioning, irrespective of the fact whether s/he is under arrest or in detention.
  5. Women should not be summoned to the police station for questioning in breach of Section 160 (1) CrPC.14

An essential element of a fair trial is that the accused cannot be forced to give evidence against her/himself. Forcing suspects to sign statements admitting their guilt violates the constitutional guarantee against self-incrimination and breaches provisions of the Code of Criminal Procedure, 1973 (CrPC). It is also inadmissible as evidence in a court of law. In addition, causing ‘hurt’ to get a confession is punishable by imprisonment up to seven years.


Nandini Satpathy case was essentially a Constitutional law case, but even with respect to Criminal Procedure, this case developed one of the most important principles of right against self-incrimination.

These principles made the interpretation of § 161(2) of the CrPC more coherent, by stating as to what question asked by the Police during the examination of witnesses, qualify as a ‘tendency to self- incriminate.’ This is also important because it made protection under right against self-incrimination available to witnesses as well, who have not yet been formally accused, but can subsequently become accused.

This case to this day acts as one of the most cited and important cases for right against self-incrimination because of its well-found and sound principles developed.

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