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Supreme Court: Insufficiently Stamped Documents Cannot Serve as Secondary Evidence

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Published on: December 1, 2023 at 01:12 IST

The Supreme Court emphasized that if a document, which is mandated to bear a stamp, lacks sufficient stamping, any attempt to introduce a copy of that document as secondary evidence is impermissible. Justices Abhay S Oka and Sanjay Karol reaffirmed this stance, drawing from a series of decisions.

The case in question involved a dispute arising from an agreement to sell entered into by the Plaintiff and Defendant on February 4, 1998. The Plaintiff sought specific performance of the contract and applied to submit a copy of the agreement as secondary evidence.

However, this application was rejected by the Additional District Judge and subsequently upheld by the High Court, citing Section 35 of the Stamp Act, which prohibits the admission of unstamped documents as evidence.

Senior Advocate Dr. Menaka Guruswamy, representing the Plaintiff, argued that Section 35 should not apply as the agreement was executed before the introduction of stamp duty requirements in 1989. The Plaintiff contended that Section 65 of the Evidence Act allowed for the admission of a copy as secondary evidence.

The Defendant countered, asserting that an unstamped copy of an original document is inadmissible as secondary evidence. Section 35 of the Stamp Act was pivotal in the argument, stating that instruments not duly stamped are inadmissible in evidence.

The Supreme Court delved into the intricacies of Section 35, emphasizing that for its admissibility bar to apply, two conditions must be met: the instrument must be chargeable with duty, and it must not be duly stamped.

Notably, the Court concluded that in this instance, the instrument was not subject to stamp duty at the time of execution, rendering Section 35 inapplicable.

Examining Section 65(a) of the Evidence Act, the Court stated the circumstances under which secondary evidence can be presented. It noted the ambiguity regarding the possession of the documents in question but affirmed that if the requirements are met, the presentation of secondary evidence could be allowed.

The Court ultimately ruled in favor of the Plaintiff, asserting that the prayer for presenting secondary evidence should be allowed.

It directed the concerned court to exhibit the documents and decide their admissibility independently, in accordance with the law under the Evidence Act.

Case title: Vijay v. Union of India

Also Read: Supreme Court Clarifies Principles Regarding Admissibility of Secondary Evidence