The following are the Frequently Asked Questions. The explanations are meant to be for general guidance regarding the scope and functions of a Forensic Document and Handwriting Examiner. It is meant to serve only a common language background and general understanding. It doesn’t have any legal relevance in that sense.
1) What aspects does Forensic Document Examination involve?
Forensic Document Examination involves the examination and comparison of writings, signatures, relative age of ink, ink alteration or addition, paper alteration, binding etc. In essence, we examine the genuineness or forgery and other Forensic Examinations of the paper documents and the writing therein.
2) Is this valid in the Court of Law?
Yes. We work under section 45 of the Indian Evidence Act being an Independent Expert.
3) Can I get a Certificate?
No. No Expert, whether Government or Private can give you a Certificate. Any expert can give you an ‘Opinion’. In any Court, an Opinion becomes admissible when it is supported and accompanied by reasoning.
4) So what is a Government Expert? Is his Opinion more valid?
A Government Expert is an expert who works in the Government department. It is essentially a specialized function for the Police and the Government. You cannot approach a Government Expert independently and ask him to give an Opinion to you directly. He has to be approached through the Police or the Hon. Court only. No, his Opinion, in essence is as valid as an Independent Expert’s Opinion. Only in rare cases where the Independent and the Government Expert holds different Opinions, with both having equally convincing reasoning and answers for cross examinations and arguments, the Hon Court may favour the Government Expert. It is the reasoning which the Hon Courts are expected to honour, and it is a fact that they do. We all know that the judiciary, legislature and the administration are different.
5) What makes you an Expert?
This is the most common question to any practitioner in this field. It is generally believed that there has to be some or the other qualification which when coming from a brick constructed institution and expressed by some initials implying some degree. The truth is that the knowledge and expertise, not only in practice but also in the eyes of the Law have a much wider domain, out of which some over the period due to a large demand or supply have been regulated and institutionalized, and even then are left with varied recognitions and limitations. There are still many areas where the individual excellence and case to case reasoning rules the rot. This is sanctioned by the section 45 of the Indian Evidence Act. Fortunately, this question does not survive even the first meeting and enough people, practices and case laws vouch for it.
I am an Expert by virtue of specialized knowledge, skill, training and experience in this science and field, as required by the section 45. Indian and International norms not only permit this but are also widely accepted. There are no two opinions about this. I have obtained my primary training under my senior and a nationally renowned expert Mr. V. C. Misra and have been certified by him. In fact section 45 is a very broad section. It even includes a car mechanic who can have an opinion if a tire would burst under certain conditions or not. There are no known courses in India which only teach Forensic Document Examination with such depth or rather duration as can be obtained by being trained by another expert. It is true that the M.Sc. Forensic Sciences does have Forensic Document Examination as a subject. It is also true that even internationally; no university training is exclusively recognized. However, there are known differences of opinion whether, in case of an M. Sc. Forensic Science, where this being one of the about 6 subjects in a semester is really amounting to ‘Specialized’ knowledge which the Law demands. The internationally relied upon ASTM standards call for equivalent to two years of training. I have obtained that in my primary training, even without considering my additional training from the International School of Questioned Document Examination, U. S. A.
6) Is Forensic Document Examination only for Court cases?
No. it can be done even for private issues or as an oral reply opinion before you proceed with the evidence in the Court of Law.
7) What are your fees and how do you charge?
It must be clearly understood that every case is different in the complexity and the implied and direct quantum. A child forging a parents’ signature and a well practiced skilled forger forging on an important document are bound to have a different set of complexity and therefore the time demanded. However, on an average, I charge Rs. 4,000 to Rs. 5,000 for a reply letter or oral opinion, and a total of Rs 10,000 for a reasoned opinion for legal use. This is obviously for around 3 disputed signatures of the same person within a short time range. It is completely immaterial to me as to what is the document in question - as in a Will or a frivolous acknowledgement, the amount involved – I charge as per my estimated time required and not contingent or commission based fees, or the parties involved. I believe I can make a better name by charging equitably. I believe, all my clients can equally recommend me, not one more than the other. I believe I am here to do my work and charge for my time, and not understand the legal case or the amounts involved, when I accept it is beyond me really. And most importantly I believe that this independence of mine will in fact make me truly an independent expert, which in fact is the basic purpose, and will end up helping you, my client, on the longer run. I will give you an invoice for your payments, and I assure you that it will be very fair and honest, while I will make every possible recommendation to make your expense the minimum.
8) How is the whole process?
The signatures or the documents to be opined upon as to whether they are genuine or not are called Questioned or Disputed. The signatures which are known to be genuine or a known authorship and are going to be used for the comparison are called Known, Admitted or Comparative. Once you send me the documents with the demarcation as above, I will go through it and tell you how to go about the case, as in, whether any additional documents are required or originals are required, etc. I will also tell you my fees, which like I have stated above is generally Rs. 4,000 to Rs. 5,000 for the oral reply or reply letter stating opinion, and Rs. 5,000 to Rs. 6,000 additional for the detailed reasoned Opinion, which also can be directly obtained for generally Rs. 10,000. These amounts are what I generally but not necessarily charge. I will also do a prima facie examination and tell you whether my opinion is really in your favour. If my opinion is in your favour or if you direct so, then only I will proceed with my examination and form my scientific and final opinion, which all amount to being chargeable as above. I will give the prima facie examination and the initial correspondence within one or two days, the reply letter in writing within a total three days and the detailed reasoned opinion within a week to ten days. Any urgency beyond that will attract extra charges which I will intimate you in advance.
The ‘reply letter stating opinion’ is basically addressed to you as a person, without detailed reasoning and will serve a written reference within your concerned parties and any internal processing. It cannot be used in the Hon Court. I can there itself or thereafter make a detailed reasoned ‘Opinion’, which can be submitted in the Hon. Court, since the Law does not allow a stated opinion of any expert and expects the submission of the reasoning therewith towards the formation of the opinion.
The examination and opinion formation can happen on the basis of the photocopies or originals. In most cases photocopies is ok. I can guide you regarding that once I see the documents. If the Opinion is not admitted by the opposite party then ideally there will an additional situation of the examination of the originals. So, it can generally be done both ways, either first the examination of the originals and then the Opinion, or the other way round, wherein I give the Opinion first and then verify that the originals are in congruence. It totally depends on cases to case, both from the forensic point of view, which I will guide you, and the legal point of view, which the lawyer will guide you. It is generally better that if the originals are in your possession or can be made available, and then we make the opinion after the examination of the originals itself. Even when you are giving me photocopies, you must try to give the earliest generation photocopy that you can obtain.
After the submission of the Opinion, there may be also a cross examination required. It is also possible to provide some scientific guidance in case of there being an opposite expert or even the submission of arguments. However, in this whole situation, it must be clearly kept in mind, that in essence, you are not really my client. I am an independent expert, liable to the Hon Court only, and completely within the bounds of science.