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Specimen Stored by Banks Evidence of Genuine Signature

In Ajitsinh Chehuji Rathod v. State of Gujarat & Another [2024 INSC 63] decided on Jan 29, 2024, the Hon’ble Supreme Court has held that certified copies of specimen signatures stored by the Bank on its documents may be produced as evidence where the accused in a case under Section 138 of the Negotiable Instruments Act, 1881 is disputing the genuineness of the signature on the cheque.

 

The present case was brought before the court by the appellant challenging an order passed against him by the High Court of Gujarat in a matter dealing with the prosecution of the appellant for an offence punishable under Section 138 of the Negotiable Instruments Act, 1881. The allegation against the appellant was that a cheque amounting to approximately Rs. 10 lakhs which was issued by the appellant was dishonoured for insufficient funds. During the course of the case in the trial court, alleging that his signature had been forged on the impugned cheque, the appellant submitted an application seeking the cheque to be sent to a handwriting expert for comparison of the handwriting and signature. The trial court rejected this application and pointed out that since the matter was at the stage of defence, the appellant in the present case could have led evidence to prove his claim pertaining to the mismatch of signatures. This order of the trial court was not challenged and the appellant was convicted by the trial court.

 

In the appeal to the Sessions Court, the appellant preferred an application under Section 391 of the Criminal Procedure Code, 1973 for bringing additional evidence and sought direction to obtain the opinion of a handwriting expert on the disputed cheque. This application was rejected by the Sessions Judge and a subsequent miscellaneous application filed in the High Court was also dismissed. The present case was brought challenging the same.

 

The Supreme Court after considering the contentions of both parties in the case observed that as per the cheque return memo, the reason for the cheque being dishonoured was insufficiency of funds. The court also pointed out that in the return memo, there was a specific column which stated that the signature on the cheque differed from the specimen signature recorded with the Bank even though the cheque had not been returned for that reason. Further, the court held that a certified copy of a document issued by a Bank is admissible under the Bankers’ Books Evidence Act, 1981 and therefore, if the appellant wanted to prove his defence of mismatch in signatures, he could have procured a certified copy of his specimen signatures from the Bank. The Court noted that as per Section 118 of the Negotiable Instruments Act, 1881 the burden fell on the accused, in this case the appellant, to disprove the presumption in favour of the complainant and that the Court did not have a duty to collect the evidence on his behalf and therefore dismissed the appeal.