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Public & Private Documents

The Indian Evidence Act recognizes two kinds of documents, viz. public and private.Section 74 of the Indian Evidence Act, 1872, defines the term “Public documents” and Section 75 of the Indian Evidence Act, 1872, describe the term “Private documents” as all documents other than Public documents.

Section 74 states 2 types of documents that can be considered as public documents. They are: –

  1. Documents forming the acts, or records of the acts
    1. of the sovereign authority,
    2. of official bodies and tribunals, and
    3. of public officers, legislative, judicial and executive, [of any part of India or of the Commonwealth], or of a foreign country
  2. Public records kept [in any State] of private documents.

Private documents, which are registered in public offices, also become public documents. For example, the memorandum and articles of a company registered with the Registrar of Companies; a private Waqf deed etc.

These documents held not be public document: - An application for a licence, a post-mortem report, an insurance policy, a private sale-deed registered under the Indian Registration Act, a “Panchnama” prepared by a police officer, A charge-sheet, arrest-warrant, judgment of court, affidavit, administrative report, etc. are public documents.

A ‘public record’ is one required by law to be kept, or necessary to be kept in the discharge of a duty imposed by law, or directed by law to serve as a memorial and permanent evidence of something written, said or done. Thus, an original receipt executed by any individual and registered under the Registration Act is not a public record as the original has to be returned to the party. Entries made by a police officer in the site inspection map and site map have been held to be public documents.

Certified copies of Public Documents

Section 76 of the Indian Evidence Act, 1872 speaks about, “Certified copies of public documents”. This section says that when any document is in custody of a public officer which any person has the right to inspect, then the public officer has to give a copy of that document, on- demand, to that person. Any such copy should contain a certificate at its foot saying that it’s a genuine copy of the original document. Such certificate shall also contain the date and name or his official title or where he can use his official seal, his official seal.

It also provides that under this section an officer who is authorized to deliver the copy shall be deemed to have been in his custody.

Proof of Documents

Section 77 of the Indian Evidence Act, 1872 speaks about, “Proof of documents by production of certified copies”. This section states that the certificates given in Section 76 are to be used to prove the contents of the public documents or part of public documents of which they are purported to be parts. The fact of marriage can be proved by producing the marriage registration certificate. Section 78 of the Indian Evidence Act, 1872 speaks about, “Proof of other official documents”. This section, a list of other public document and the way to prove them is given.

Note: - Section 79 – 90 provides “Presumption as to Documents”.

About the Author

  • Adv. Abhishek Gupta (Natraj Legal Solutions)
  • Delhi High Court
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