Legal provisions regarding Causing disappearance of evidence of offence, or giving false information to screen offender under section 201 of Indian Penal Code, 1860.
Causing disappearance of evidence of offence, or giving false information to screen offender:
“Whoever, knowing or having reason to believe that an offence has been committed, causes any evidence of the commission of that offence to disappear, with the intention of screening the offender from legal punishment, or with that intention gives any information respecting the offence which he knows or believes to be false.
If a capital offence:- shall, if the offence, which he knows or believes to have been committed is punishable with death, be punished with imprisonment of either description for a term which may extend to seven years, and shall also be liable to fine.
If punishable with imprisonment for life:- and if the offence is punishable with imprisonment for life, or with imprisonment which may extend to ten years, shall be punished with imprisonment of either description for a term which may extend to three years, and shall also be liable to fine;
If punishable with less than ten years imprisonment:- and if the offence is punishable with imprisonment for any term not extending to ten years, shall be punished with imprisonment of the description provided for the offence, for a term which may extend to one-fourth part of the longest term of the imprisonment provided for the offence, or with fine, or with both.
A, knowing that В has murdered Z, assists В to hide the body with the intention of screening В from punishment. A is liable to imprisonment of either description for seven years, and also to fine.
Section 201 deals with two aspects. One is causing disappearance of evidence and the second is giving false information about the offence. The essential ingredients to prove the charge under Section 201 are:
1. There must be an offence which has been committed;
2. The accused knew or had reason to believe the commission of such an offence;
3. A person should cause the disappearance of any evidence of the crime committed.
4. It should be done with the intention of screening or saving the culprit from punishment; or
5. A person must give false information about the offence;
6. He must be aware or have knowledge that the information given by him is false.
7. If the Charge be of an aggravated form, it must be further proved that the offence in respect of which the accused did was punishable with death or imprisonment for life or imprisonment extending to ten years.
The prosecution should establish the following two basic ingredients for conviction of the accused under Section 201:
i) The accused should have had the knowledge that an offence has been committed or at least that he should have had reasons to believe it; and
ii) He should, then have caused disappearance of evidence of commission of that offence.
The scope of Section 201 is not limited to the case of a person who screens the actual offender; it can be applied to a person guilty of the main offence though as a matter of practice, a court will not convict a person both of the main offence and under Section 201.
However, if the commission of the main offence is not brought home to the accused, then he can be convicted under Section 201. In those cases, where it is difficult to conclude that a person has committed the principal offence he cannot escape under Section 201 merely because there are grounds for suspicion that he might be the principal culprit.
One of the primary requirements of Section 201 is proof of the actual commission of offence. This is because, unless an offence has been committed in the first place, the question of causing disappearance of evidence of crime or shielding the criminal does not arise.
Section uses the language ‘whoever’. The question that arose was whether the term ‘whoever’ includes the person who is guilty of committing the offence, of which evidence has been caused to disappear. On whether it was applicable to persons apart from the person accused of the main offence.
Section 201 is not restricted to the case of a person who screens the actual offender; it can be applied even to a person guilty of the main offence, though as a matter of practice, a court will not convict a person both of the main offence and under Section 201. A person who plays no greater part in the incident than to arrange the secret removal of the dead body after the murder had been committed in order to screen the murder is guilty of an offence under Section 201, IPC.
The word ‘offence’ as used in Section 201 does not contemplate that the accused should know the particular section of the Penal Code under which the offence falls or the precise character of the offence committed.
What the court has to decide is what offence the accused know or had reason to believe had been committed. When Section 201, IPC refers to ‘offence’ it refers to the offence as it appears to the accused crediting him with the knowledge that can reasonably be expected of him.
The word ‘evidence’ in Section 201 refers, not to ‘evidence’ in the extensive sense in which that word is used in the Indian Evidence Act, but to evidence in its primary sense, as meaning anything that is likely to make the crime evident such as the existence of a wounded corpse or of blood strains, fabricated documents, or similar material objects indicating that an offence had been committed.
The removal of the corpse of a murdered man from the place of occurrence to another place does not, of itself amount to causing disappearance of evidence within the meaning of Section 201 of the IPC. But, a person who plays no greater part in this incident than to arrange the secret removal of the dead body after the murder had been committed in order to screen the murder is guilty of an offence under Section 201.
The accused charged under Section 201 must be instrumental in the disappearance of evidence of a crime. The expression ‘any evidence of the commission of that offence “means anything that is likely to make the crime evident, such as the existence of a wounded corpse or bloodstained clothes and weapons. The recovery of the body of a person murdered on its being pointed out by the accused would be very strong evidence of an offence under Section 201.
It must be proved that an offence the evidence of which the accused is charged with causing to disappear has actually been committed, and that the accused knew, or had information sufficient to lead him to believe that the offence had been committed.
Section 201 only punishes him who either knew or had reason to believe that an offence had been committed. Now, no one can be said to have reason to believe a thing unless he had sufficient cause to believe that thing. It lies on the prosecution to prove that the accused had such sufficient cause for his belief. This must depend upon the facts and circumstances of each case.
Even though the thing screened be evidence, the next requirement of Section 201 is that the screening must have been with the intention of screening the offender. In other words, what Section 201 requires is that it should be the primary and sole object of the accused.
The fact that the concealment was merely likely to have that effect is not sufficient, for Section 201 speaks of intention as distinct from a mere likelihood. Whoever the IPC speaks of ‘likelihood’ the phraseology adopted is “intending or knowing it to be likely”, but here what is stated is intention only, and it must, therefore, be proved by evidence which establishes something more than a mere likelihood.
Not only must the intention of the accused is to screen the offender, but with that intention in view, he must have caused disappearance of any evidence of the offence or given any false information respecting the offence. The giving of false information respecting the commission of an offence is one thing, its concealment is another.
They are both offences calculated to thwart justice, but the same intention is not common to both. In the one case there may be no intention to conceal the real offender but merely an intention to screen an offence or to implicate one falsely; in the other there is an active desire to save a person from legal punishment.
In Mahantappa v. State of Karnataka [AIR 1999 SC 314], the accused persons who committed murder were held liable under Section 201 when they threw the dead body into a hut and set the hut on fire.
In Baby Kandayanathil v. State of Kerala [AIR 1993 SC 2275], the accused had developed intimacy with the wife of the deceased who objected. The accused came to their house with his gun and on the husband coming in shot him dead. Thereafter, the dead was severed and the dead body was removed and secreted.
The guilt of the accused was proved by the evidence of the two minor children of the deceased who witnessed the whole occurrence. Conviction of the assailant under Section 300 was upheld. The wife was convicted under Section 201.
In Sarojini v. State of MP [1993 AIR SCW 817], the victim was murdered and thereafter body was burnt to screen the offence. The guilt of the accused mother-in-law and that of the husband of the victim as ‘particepis criminis’ was established beyond any shadow of doubt.
The order of acquittal passed by the High Court from the offence of murder was severed and set aside and that of the trial court convicting both the accused under Section 300 was upheld. The mother-in-law was also convicted under Section 201.
The offence under Section 201 is non-cognizable, but warrant may issue in the first instance. It is bailable but not compoundable and if the offence screened is punishable with death, it is triable exclusively by the Court of Session, if the offence screened is punishable with imprisonment for life or imprisonment for ten years, triable by a Magistrate of the first class and if punishable with less than ten years imprisonment triable by the Court by which the offence is triable.