The present article is written by Muskan Harlalka, a 2nd-year law student from the School of Law, Mody University of Science and Technology, Lakshmangarh, Rajasthan.


In common parlance, “trial” means the process by which a person is adjudicated as guilty or innocent. It starts with the framing of a charge and concludes with the acquittal or conviction. However, it is not defined in the Criminal Procedure Code (CrPC) of 1973. The trial in which the accusations imposed on a person accused of a crime are resolved is called a criminal trial.

In India, penal laws are mainly regulated by three acts – 

  1. Indian Penal Code, 1860
  2. Code of Criminal Procedure, 1973
  3. Indian Evidence Act, 1872

CrPC is a procedural law that describes the mechanism for conducting a criminal trial. It includes the method of collecting evidence, interrogation of accused, arrests, bail, witness examination, method of conviction, etc. IPC is the primary penal law in India and it applies to all offenses except the ones which are covered under any other law in India. The Indian Evidence Act governs the various aspects of evidence in a trial such as its evidentiary value, manner of production of evidence, etc. 

Phases OF Trial

According to CrPC, the mechanism of determining the criminal liability of an accused has three phases. The first phase is the pre-trial phase which includes reporting the offense to the police or filing a complaint before the Magistrate, investigation by the police, or cognizance and inquiry by the Magistrate.

The second is the trial phase. This is the most crucial phase as it consists of the trial of the accused before the court to determine whether he will be acquitted or convicted. 

The third and last phase is the post-trial phase which mainly includes appeal and review by either of the parties.

Types of Criminal Trials in the Indian Legal System

CrPC provides for different types of criminal trials depending upon the nature of criminal cases. The trial process for serious offenses is more detailed and complex, on the other hand, the process for less serious offenses is more straightforward. Depending upon the nature of the offense, the trial of an accused can be of four types:-

  1. The trial before a Sessions court (Sessions Trial)
  2. Trial of Warrant cases by Magistrates (Warrant Trial)
  3. Trial of Summons cases  by Magistrates (Summons Trial)
  4. Summary Trials

These types are discussed below:

  1. The trial before a Sessions court (Sessions Trial): Trials in Warrant cases are more detailed and serious in comparison to Summons cases. A warrant case can be tried either by the Magistrate’s court or the sessions’ court. If a Magistrate is of the view that a case should be tried by the sessions court then he sends it to the sessions court for trial. This process is “committing it to sessions court”. Trial of Warrant cases by a Sessions Court is covered under Sections 225-237 of CrPC.

The various steps in a criminal trial before a sessions court are:

  • According to Section 229 after the committing of the case to the sessions court, the court frames charges against the accused and if the accused pleads guilty for these charges, the court has the discretion to convict the accused at that point. 
  • But if the accused does not plead guilty, then the court advances with the trial and sets a date for the prosecution to present their evidence. 
  • If after examining the prosecution’s evidence and the accused, the Court is of the view that the accused has not committed any offense, the accused is acquitted. 
  • However, if the prosecution’s evidence justifies the framing of charges against the accused, he is then called upon to present his defense. 
  • The prosecution then summarizes his pleadings and the defense is given another chance to put forward evidence in support of his client (the accused).
  • In the end, after hearing both sides, the court passes a judgment of conviction or acquittal of the accused according to Section 235 of CrPC.
  1. Trial of Warrant cases by Magistrates (Warrant Trial): Trial of Warrant cases by Magistrates is covered under Sections 238-250 of CrPC. Offenses that are punishable with death, imprisonment of life, or imprisonment for a term of more than two years come under the trial of warrant cases by Magistrates. A trial in a warrant case may start either by the filing of an FIR or by the filing of a complaint before a Magistrate. 

Steps in trial of Warrant cases by Magistrate when the case is instituted on a police report:

  • In such cases when the accused appears before the Court, the Magistrate should ensure that copies of all necessary and relevant documents such as FIR, Police Report, etc. have been provided to the accused.
  • Section 239 of CrPC provides that if upon examining all relevant documents, the Magistrate is of the view that the charges against the accused are not valid, then he can discharge the accused and state his reasons for the same.
  • If the Magistrate finds that grounds for accusation are valid, then he can proceed and frame the charges as per Section 240 of CrPC.
  • If after framing the charges, the accused pleads guilty then the Magistrate has the discretion under Section 241 to convict him.
  • However, if the accused does not plead guilty then the Court calls for the prosecution’s evidence. After the prosecution’s evidence has been presented, the defense gets the chance to do the same and their evidence is also recorded under Section 243.
  •  After that, the trial ends and the Court gives its verdict.

Steps involved in trial of Warrant cases by Magistrate when the case is instituted otherwise than on a police report:

  • Here the first step is the recording of the prosecution’s evidence. If upon examining the prosecution’s evidence the Magistrate concludes that the accusations against the accused are not valid, then he can discharge the accused.
  • But if the Magistrate is convinced that there are valid grounds for the accusation then he proceeds with the framing of charges.
  • The accused is then informed about the charges and if he pleads guilty for them, then the Magistrate has the discretion to convict him.
  • However, if the accused does not plead guilty, then the prosecution’s witnesses are called for cross-examination by the accused if he wants to do so.
  • The Magistrate then records the evidence for the defence and considers evidence of both the parties.
  • Then the Magistrate acquits or convicts the accused as per the provisions given in Section 248 of CrPC.
  1. Trial of Summons cases by Magistrates (Summons Trial): Summons cases are related to offenses that are punishable with imprisonment for a term of fewer than two years. Trial for summons cases is covered under Sections 251-259 of CrPC.

The process of criminal trial in summons cases by a Magistrate is as described below:

  • Instead of framing formal charges against the accused, he is issued a notice stating the accusation against him.
  • According to Section 251 of the Code, when the accused appears before the court, the Magistrate informs him about the particulars of the charges against him and asks him if he pleads guilty for the same. If he pleads guilty, then the court has the discretion to convict him.
  • Section 253 of CrPC provides for the plea of guilty in the absence of the accused in cases related to petty offences. This enables a pleader authorised by the accused to plead guilty on his behalf when the offence is punishable with fine only. In such cases, the Magistrate has the discretion of convicting the accused.
  • In case the accused does not plead guilty after the particulars of the accusation are stated to him, then as per Section 254 of the Code, the Magistrate proceeds with the evidence presented by both the parties and accordingly decides whether the accused is innocent or guilty.
  1. Summary Trials: Sections 260-265 of CrPC deal with Summary Trials. According to Section 262, sentences for imprisonment for a term exceeding three months cannot be passed in Summary trials. The main objective of summary trials is the speedy disposal of cases. If the accused does not plead guilty, then according to Section 264, the Magistrate will have to record a substance of the evidence and a judgment stating reasons for the same.

Since summary cases deal with petty offenses, the trial procedure is very simple. If a fine of not more than two hundred rupees has been imposed, then no appeal can be filed. But an application can be made to the High Court for revision.


A study of CrPC and its provisions related to stages of criminal trial makes it clear that every feature which is necessary for conducting a fair trial has been included. However, the process is very complex and the tendency of the code to protect the rights of the accused hinders the process of justice for the victim. Moreover, there is a huge backlog of cases that are pending. Thus, having a law that covers everything does not ensure justice, its effective implementation does.


  1. Process of Trial of Criminal cases in India, Lexology,
  2. Sindhu A, What are the different kinds of trials in Criminal Procedure Code?, Law Times Journal (Mar. 15, 2020),–of-trials-in-criminal-procedure-code/. 
  3. Sugam Shine, Stages of Criminal Trial in India, Kith and Kin Attorneys,
  4. Types of Criminal Trials, Legal Formats India (Nov. 30, 2020),
  5. Vijay Pal Dalmia,  Process of Trial of Criminal Cases in India, Mondaq,
  6. Vivek Narayan Sharma, Know your rights: Criminal trials in India (Part-1), Times of India (Dec. 22, 2018),  



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