This article is authored by Kirti Bhushan, a student of Campus Law Centre, University of Delhi. The article explains the phase of a criminal trial in India. There are various types of trials carried on under the Criminal Procedure Code, 1973 and the article focuses to explain all those briefly.
The trial stage commences when the pre-trial procedure i.e. First Information Report and investigation has been completed. The Criminal Procedure Code, 1973 (hereinafter referred to as “CrPC, 1973”), Indian Penal Code, 1860 and the Indian Evidence Act, 1872 govern the procedure, punishment as well as the facts or evidence of a particular case respectively. The procedure regarding a criminal trial and the various forms of trial are prescribed in the CrPC, 1973. According to CrPC, 1973, there are three kinds of trial:
- Trial in Warrant cases.
- Trial in Summons cases.
- Summary trials.
A brief account regarding the procedure of all these trials is explained below.
According to section 2 (x) of CrPC, 1973, “warrant-case” means a case relating to an offence punishable with death, imprisonment for life or imprisonment for a term exceeding two years.” Thus, any offence whose punishment exceeds more than two years up to death sentence are called warrant cases and their procedural formalities are explained in sections 238-250 of chapter IX under the CrPC, 1973.
Generally, a warrant case is initiated either on a First Information Report i.e. F.I.R. filed in the police station or a complaint made before a Magistrate. If the Magistrate is of the opinion that he has the jurisdiction to try the case then he can proceed with the same under sections 238-250 else he can commit the case to the Sessions Court if he does not have the jurisdiction to try the same. Then the procedure is as follows:
- The Magistrate has to satisfy himself that the provisions of fair trial mentioned under section 207 of the CrPC, 1973 are complied with and the object of this section 238 of the CrPC, 1973 is to apprise the accused regarding the charges framed against him so that he can prepare to cross-examine the witnesses against him as well as a case to defend himself.
- Then the Magistrate under section 239 of the CrPC, 1973 may either discharge the accused if, after considering all the material on record as well as giving an opportunity of being heard to prosecution and the accused, he is of the opinion that the case is groundless and he has to record his reasons for the same or he can frame a charge against the accused if he considers that the material available on record prima facie discloses a case against the accused.
- If the accused pleads guilty under section 241 of the CrPC, 1973 then he can be convicted by the Magistrate if he has the jurisdiction to do so or else by the Sessions Court under their discretion. If the accused does not plead guilty then the Magistrate can fix a date for examination of witnesses under section 242 of CrPC, 1973.
- Then the Magistrate will fix a date for cross-examination under section 242 (1) of CrPC, 1973 but by virtue of the Criminal Procedure Code Amendment Act, 2009 there is a proviso added specifying Magistrate’s duty to supply a copy of statements of witnesses recorded during the police investigation as the objective of such amendment was clearly laid down in the Supreme Court judgment viz. Superintendent v. Satyen Bhowmick And Ors:
“an accused was undoubtedly entitled to have copies of the statements of witnesses recorded by the police. This is a very valuable right because without having the statements recorded by the police in his possession, it would be difficult, if not impossible, for an accused to defend himself effectively. It is well settled that fouler the crime the higher should be the proof. If an accused is not supplied either the statements recorded by the police or the statement of witnesses recorded at the inquiry or the trial, how can he possibly defend himself and instruct his lawyer to cross-examine the witnesses successfully and effectively so as to disprove the prosecution case.”
- The Magistrate may summon any of the witnesses or direct them to produce any documents etc. to be produced on the fixed date and the same shall be attested as prosecution evidence under section 242 (3) of CrPC, 1973. Once the prosecution evidence has been recorded then the oral arguments of the prosecution and examination of witnesses under section 313 (1) (b) of CrPC, 1973 follow. The prosecution in a criminal trial presents its case first and adduces all the evidence on record to prove that the accused is guilty beyond reasonable doubt.
- Then under section 313 of the CrPC, 1973 the accused gets an opportunity to be heard and to explain the facts and circumstances of the case. And then comes the stage where the defense gives evidence whereby the defense cross-examines the prosecution witnesses and the defense can also give both oral and documentary evidence.
- The parties before closing their evidence have to submit their arguments. Thereafter, the trial ends in either the acquittal or conviction of the accused after the Magistrate records his reason for the same and the judgment is given.
According to section 2 (w) of the CrPC, 1973: “‘summons- case’ means a case relating to an offence, and not being a warrant- case.” Thus, any case in which the term of imprisonment is less than two years then its trial will be as per the summons trial procedure. These are less serious in nature and thus, their trial differs from that of the warrant cases. Their procedure is laid down under sections 251- 259 under Chapter XX of the CrPC, 1973. A summons case can be transformed into a warrant case if the Magistrate deems it fit to do so. The accused does not have to be present in the Court during such trial and no formal i.e. written charges are required to proceed with the trial. Oral charges are sufficient.
The case can be tried once it is initiated through a F.I.R. Then the procedure is as follows:
- The Magistrate gives the accused the substance of the accusations made along with the other particulars of the offence and he will ask the accused if he pleads guilty or not.
- In case the accused pleads guilty, he will be convicted after recording his plea under section 252 of the CrPC, 1973. In case the accused pleads guilty but is absent in a petty case, then he has to send Rs. 1000 along with a letter pleading guilty to the Magistrate’s Court and the amount will be adjusted towards the fine charged to him, if any, by the Magistrate.
- In case the accused does not plead guilty, then the Magistrate shall hear the complainant and his witnesses and only then give a decision. The accused can also examine the witnesses and the Magistrate has no discretion regarding refusal to the accused’s application to examine witnesses and he is duty bound to summon such witnesses and give decision only after such examination of witnesses is done by both complainant and accused.
- Then the Magistrate may pronounce his judgment regarding all such evidence and witnesses on record. The parties can then appeal against such a decision.
Sections 261-265 under chapter XXI of the CrPC, 1973 provides the procedure of summary trials. The objective of summary trials is the same as that of Summons trial procedure i.e. to save the time of the Court as well as parties in less serious matters. Such matters which are generally settled under one or two hearings come under the purview of Summary Trials. The accused can be sentenced to imprisonment for up to three months only. Section 260 lists the various offences which can be tried summarily. The Magistrate should use his discretion cautiously while deciding to try any case summarily and he should avoid doing it when the facts of the circumstances are complex. In section 262(1) of the CrPC, 1973 the procedure of summons case is to be followed except when a longer sentence than three months is considered fit by the Magistrate to meet the ends of the justice. Then the Magistrate shall make a record of the proceedings as specified under section 263 of the CrPC, 1973. Section 264 of the CrPC, 1973 provides that “In every case tried summarily in which the accused does not plead guilty, the Magistrate shall record the substance of the evidence and a judgment containing a brief statement of the reasons for the finding.” and section 265 of the CrPC, 1973 specifies the language of record and judgment to be followed.
The purpose of division between warrant, summons and summary trials is to distinguish more serious crimes from lesser serious ones. The trial procedure in India is a lengthy one so this division of trial procedures is appropriate to follow. The division is mostly on the basis of punishments prescribed for each type and thus it speeds up the procedure for crimes which are less heinous in nature and thus, it saves the valuable time of the Courts, as well as the parties grievances, are addressed in a timely manner. Sometimes, when any party does not comply with any procedure then it can have lethal effects on that party’s case and sometimes if it is a mere irregularity, then it can be regulated by the permission of the Court.
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