Dishonor of Cheque under Section 138 NI Act: SC rules that Certified copy of the specimen signature from bank can be procured if accused disputes signature on cheque

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While hearing the Ajitsinh Chehuji Rathod vs. The State of Gujarat case on January 29, 2024, the Supreme Court (SC) of India held that if the accused is arguing that the signature on the cheque is forged, then the certified copy of the signature from the bank could be summoned to compare the same with the signature appearing on the cheque. A two-judge bench constituting Justice B.R. Gavai and Justice Sandeep Mehta held in the judgment that a “Certified copy of a document issued by a Bank is itself admissible under the Bankers’ Books Evidence Act, 1891 without any formal proof thereof. Hence, in an appropriate case, the certified copy of the specimen signature maintained by the Bank can be procured with a request to the Court to compare the same with the signature appearing on the cheque by exercising powers under Section 73 of the Indian Evidence Act, 1872.” 

Moreover, the SC explained that according to Section 118(e) of the Negotiable Instrument Act, 1881, the indorsements on a cheque carry a presumption of genuineness. It said, “the presumption of the indorsements on the cheque being genuine operates in favor of the holder in due course of the cheque in question which would be the complainant herein. In case, the accused intends to rebut such presumption, he would be required to lead evidence to this effect.” Yesterday (January 29, 2024), the SC heard an appeal against the order passed by the Gujarat High Court refusing to accept additional evidence under Section 391 of the CrPC in an appeal, by the complainant, against his conviction in a cheque dishonor case. The appellant was prosecuted for the offence punishable under Section 138 of the Negotiable Instrument (NI) Act, 1881 before the learned trial Court with an allegation that the cheque to the tune of Rs. 10 lakhs issued by the appellant in favor of the complainant upon being presented in the bank was dishonored “for insufficient funds and account dormant”. 

After hearing the matter, the bench observed that “...if at all, the appellant was desirous of proving that the signatures as appearing on the cheque issued from his account were not genuine, then he could have procured a certified copy of his specimen signatures from the Bank and a request could have been made to summon the concerned Bank official in defence for giving evidence regarding the genuineness or otherwise of the signature on the cheque.” Furthermore, the SC observed that the appellant filed an application, seeking to compare the signature on the cheque through the handwriting expert, before the trial court but the same was rejected. It added, “The said order was never challenged and had thus attained finality.” At last, the Supreme Court said, “We find no infirmity in the impugned orders warranting interference. The appeal lacks merit and is dismissed…”