The Sting Operator

The expression ‘sting operation’ seems to have emerged from the title of a popular movie called “The Sting” which was screened sometime in the year 1973. The movie was based on a somewhat complicated plot hatched by two persons to trick a third person into committing a crime. Being essentially a deceptive operation, though designed to nab a criminal, a sting operation raises certain moral and ethical questions.

A sting operation carried out in public interest has had the approval of the Hon’ble Supreme Court in R.K. Anand v. Registrar, Delhi High Court (2009) 8 SCC 106 though it will be difficult to understand the ratio in the said case as an approval of such a method as an acceptable principle of law enforcement valid in all cases. Such operations by the enforcement agencies are yet to be experimented and tested in India and legal acceptance thereof by our legal system is yet to be answered.

What would be the position of such operations if conducted not by a State Agency but by a private individual and the liability, not of the principal offender honey trapped into committing the crime, but that of the sting operator who had stained his own hands while entrapping what he considers to be the main crime and the main offender? Should such an individual i.e. the sting operator be held to be criminally liable for commission of the offence that is inherent and inseparable from the process by which commission of another offence is sought to be established? Should the commission of the first offence be understood to be obliterated and extinguished in the face of claims of larger public interest that the sting operator seeks to make, namely, to expose the main offender of a serious crime injurious to public interest?

The answer to the above would depend, as in any criminal case, on the facts and circumstances thereof. A crime does not stand obliterated or extinguished merely because its commission is claimed to be in public interest. Any such principle would be abhorrent to our criminal jurisprudence. At the same time the criminal intent behind the commission of the act which is alleged to have occasioned the crime will have to be established before the liability of the person charged with the commission of crime can be adjudged.

Whether the operation was really a journalistic exercise and the giving of the bribe was a mere sham or pretence or whether the giving of the bribe was with expectation of favours, are questions that can only be answered by the evidence of the parties. Such facts cannot be a matter of an assumption. It is only in cases where the question reasonably arises whether the sting operator had a stake in the favours that were allegedly sought in return for the bribe that the issue will require determination in the course of a full-fledged trial. The above is certainly not exhaustive of the situations where such further questions may arise requiring a deeper probe. As such situations are myriad, if not infinite, any attempt at illustration must be avoided.

3 Judge Bench in Rajat Prasad v. CBI, (2014) 6 SCC 495.

The Sting