Film footage as proof in case? HC to decide

AHMEDABAD: Can a feature film be considered a legal piece of evidence in a criminal case? This is the question that has come up before Gujarat High Court to decide on the issue of alleged disappearance of a chinkara by the Bollywood star Aamir Khan and the Lagaan crew. Admitting the film actor’s petition for quashing a criminal complaint against him and his four team members filed by the state forest department, Justice HN Devani observed, “The core issue which arises for consideration is whether a film can be said to be a legal evidence for what it depicts.” The court also noticed that the complaint against Lagaan team was based upon the footage in the film and the crew has been called upon to prove their innocence on the presumption that they had illegally shot the animal and then killed it. Moreover, the court also observed that the forest department’s complaint and the documents it has produced clearly show that the state government has no other evidence to connect the film star with the offence, except that it places reliance on footage of the film. During arguments, the special prosecutor appointed to defend the forest department repeatedly sought the production of rushes. In fact, the department had written to the film company to bring the original negative of the film, which “is enough to establish possession of chinkara”. To this, the petitioners have maintained that the disputed scene in the film was created by some borrowed footage as well as by using digital editing technique. While granting stay on the investigation ordered by a Bhuj court, the court remarked that the magistrate himself as per Section 202 of the CrPC should have inquired into the case before issuing bailable warrant to the accused, since they reside outside the magistrate’s jurisdiction. For Aamir Khan, senior counsel Mihir Joshi argued that the forest department has created “a novel principle of criminal jurisprudence” whereby the burden of proof of innocence is placed on the film unit. Hinting at the oblique intention by the state government to grill the film star, he also questioned why the forest department initiated inquiry eight years after the shooting took place in Kutch. On the issue of delay in complaint, the public prosecutor claimed that the forest official had seen the film in 2005 and he immediately initiated investigation in the case. Earlier, the forest department had carried some preliminary investigation and the matter was closed. But the case reopened when an environment group, Gir Youth Nature Club, registered a complained in this case in the aftermath of the film star’s statement on the Narmada dam issue, which led to widespread protest against Khan in Gujarat in 2005.
20 Jul 2008, 0350 hrs IST,TNN


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