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[Supreme Court] Permitting the Presence of an Advocate During Interrogation at a Visible but Not Audible Distance


In the matter of Birendra Kumar Pandey v. Union of India[i], the Hon’ble Supreme Court (‘SC’) affirmed the permissible limits of legal representation during the interrogation processes. Addressing the nuanced legal debate on the presence of advocates during interrogations, the SC clarified the conditions under which an advocate could be present, albeit at a visible but not audible distance from their clients. This judgment reflects a critical balance between the need for effective law enforcement and the protection of individual rights under interrogation.

Brief Facts

Birendra Kumar Pandey (‘Petitioner’) filed a Writ Petition (‘WP’) under a. 32 of the Constitution of India, 1949 (‘Constitution’), seeking to have his advocate present during the interrogation and recording of his statement under s. 108 of the Customs Act, 1962 (‘Act’). This request stemmed from fears of possible coercive tactics by the interrogating authorities. An interim order was previously granted in similar terms, setting a precedent for this petition.


  • The SC granted the Petitioner’s request, allowing the presence of his advocate during the interrogation at a visible but beyond hearing distance. This decision was primarily informed by the need to ensure the Petitioner’s rights were protected during the interrogation process, balancing effective law enforcement with constitutional safeguards.

  • Initially, the Respondent's opposition was based on the legal precedent Poolpandi and Others v. Superintendent, Central Excise and Others[ii], which prohibited the direct involvement of advocates during interrogations under the Act. However, the SC revisited its more recent ruling in Senior Intelligence Officer v. Jugal Kishore Samra[iii], which permitted such presence, aligning with the protective guidelines established in the D.K. Basu case. This comparison clarified that the presence allowed was not for active participation but for mere observation to prevent potential abuses.

  • The SC emphasized that unlike in Poolpandi’s case, where direct involvement was sought, the request in this case was for the advocate to observe from a distance, ensuring no coercive methods were employed. This distinction was crucial in overturning the precedent as it related to the specific interrogation conditions.

  • It also noted that similar reliefs had been granted in other petitions, reinforcing the consistency of its approach in allowing such measures to safeguard the rights of individuals during law enforcement procedures.

  • With the interim order addressing the main prayer of the Petitioner, the SC observed that no further reliefs were necessary at the final disposal, thus effectively concluding the matter with the implementation of the interim relief.


The observations of the SC assume significance as the respondent agency and other law enforcement agencies often adopt coercive measures to record statements, which may not be truthful or are obtained under duress and coercion. Such statements are then improperly used to impose civil and criminal liabilities, which are clearly impermissible in law. The SC’s affirmation of its interim observations—that an advocate for the person can be permitted during interrogation at a visible but not audible distance—provides essential guidance that could assist similarly situated individuals. However, in practice, law enforcement agencies frequently do not adhere to these requirements, leaving those summoned with no effective remedy but to approach the High Court or SC seeking similar reliefs.

End Notes

[i] (2023) 8 Centax 46 (S.C.)

[ii] (1992) 3 SCC 259

[iii] (2011) 12 SCC 362

Authored by Aishwarya Pawar, Advocate at Metalegal Advocates. The views expressed are personal and do not constitute legal opinion.


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