This article has been written by Soumya Jain pursuing Certificate Course in Advanced Criminal Litigation & Trial Advocacy and has been edited by Oishika Banerji (Team Lawsikho).
This article has been published by Sneha Mahawar.
Table of Contents
The Criminal Procedure Code,1973 (CrPC), is a procedural law that guides the court in a way in which criminal trials ought to be conducted. The objective of the Code is to ensure fair trial and justice. CrPC prescribes a long procedure of trial which either results in conviction or acquittal. The proceedings tend to terminate either with conviction or acquittal of the accused. These are not the only ways in which criminal proceedings are put to an end. The criminal proceedings would come to an end in either of these ways:
- Withdrawal from the proceedings.
- Acquittal of the accused.
- Through the inherent powers of the high court under Section 482.
- Through conditional pardon.
- Through abatement of criminal proceedings on the death of the accused.
This article seeks to explain the concept of termination of proceedings as have been provided in the CrPC for the readers to understand the same in a simple way.
Termination of criminal proceedings
Termination of proceedings means an order of the court or the judgment of the court before which the matter is pending pronounces its final verdict, from which the appeal or review would not lie in another court. In CrPC, there is no specific provision with states when the criminal proceedings would come to an end. Therefore, it becomes necessary to infer termination of proceedings from various sections of the Code. For instance, once the complainant withdraws the complaint under Section 257, this would mark an end to the proceedings, hence, resulting in the termination of criminal proceedings.
Withdrawal from the proceedings
The termination of criminal proceedings tends to take place when the complainant withdraws the complaint or withdraws from the prosecution.
Withdrawal of the complaint from the proceedings
Under Section 257, if a complainant wants to withdraw a complaint, he can do so. It can be done before the final order is pronounced. If the complainant satisfies the Magistrate that there are sufficient grounds to not proceed against the accused, and, if the magistrate is satisfied by the justification of the complainant he may allow the complainant to withdraw his complaint and acquit the accused. The accused, once acquitted, cannot be tried for the same offence again, according to Section 300 of CrPC. Hence, the acquittal of the accused under Section 257 would put an end to the proceedings for the offence he has been acquitted. Section 257 is only applicable to summon cases.
- Under Section 257, all complaints can be withdrawn which are triable as summon cases
- For the withdrawal of the complaint, under Section 257, consent of the court is mandatory.
- Once the complaint is withdrawn by the complainant it will not directly result in stopping prosecution of the accused. The Court needs to pass an order of absolution, i.e. order of releasing the accused from the offences.
- For the purpose of the withdrawal of the complaint, the consent of the accused is not necessary.
In Y.P Baiju vs. State of Kerala (2007), the Court observed that Section 257 can only be employed to withdraw complainants which are related to summoning cases. Section 257 will not have any application on the cases instituted through the police reports and the cases instituted under Section 320.
In Thathpadi Venkatalaxmi vs. State of Andhra Pradesh and Anr (1990), the wife reported cruelty against her husband to the police, thereafter, the police filed the charge sheet. Later, the wife wanted to withdraw the complaint under Section 257, but the Court did not permit her to withdraw the complainant, as the charge sheet was filed by the police, making them the original complainant. It is a fact that the complaint cannot be withdrawn if the charge sheet is filed by the police already.
Power to stop proceedings in certain cases
Under Section 258 of CrPC, the First Class Magistrate after taking prior approval of the Chief Magistrate in summon cases can stop proceedings at any stage of trial without pronouncing judgment. Before stopping the proceedings it is mandatory for the magistrate to record evidence of the principal witness. Thereafter, the Magistrate can pronounce the judgment of acquittal and record reasons for the same.
In Suo motu v. State of Kerala (2019), it was held that Section 258 could only be applied in special circumstances, where prima facie no case could be made or the failure of prosecution is inevitable due some technical error.
Withdrawal from prosecution
Section 321 of the Code of 1973, gives great power to the public prosecutor to withdraw from the prosecution. The public prosecutor can withdraw from the prosecution with the consent of the Court. Under clause b of Section 321, if the public prosecutor withdraws after the charges are framed the accused is deemed to be acquitted. The public prosecutor is a representative of the state, he owes a responsibility towards the public at large. Therefore, the decision of withdrawing from the prosecution cannot be taken by the public prosecutor all alone, he is duty-bound to consult the respective State.
In a landmark Judgement, Sheonandan Paswan v. State of Bihar (1986), the Supreme Court cleared the air around that the public prosecutor ought to apply his own mind and should not be bound by the opinions of the state. The Apex Court observed that a public prosecutor is not an independent judicial officer, rather he is an agent of the State. The Supreme Court gave a few directions that the public prosecutor should follow before exercising power under Section 321.
Public prosecutors should take advice from the state government and carry out the following:
- After taking the advice of the government the public prosecutor should apply his free mind to decide either to withdraw or continue.
- The public prosecutor should be able to prove in the Court that his decision is based upon his own rational thinking.
- In the end, the Public Prosecutor is an officer of the Court but also an agent of the State. So, he is bound to work, according to the advice of the government.
Acquittal of accused
In layman’s language, a person is acquitted when there is no evidence for proceeding against him after the trial, he is proven innocent. There is a difference between acquittal and discharge. Acquittal puts an end to the trial proceedings, whereas, discharge is no guarantee of termination of proceedings, as discharge proceedings can be reinitiated.
Under Section 232 of CrPC, the judge after listening to the prosecution and taking evidence from the prosecution and examining the accused, comes to the conclusion that there is no evidence against the accused that he has committed the offence. The Judge gives an order of acquittal.
In Govindaraju @ Govinda v. State (2012), it was observed that no appeal against acquittal can be entertained, except by leave of the high court. The conviction of the accused after acquittal is only possible when the judgment of the trial court is perverse on facts or law. The Appellate Court should be convinced that the findings of the trial court are erroneous and against settled principles of law.
Judgment of Acquittal or Conviction
Under Section 325, the Judge after hearing both sides and taking all the evidence on the record passes judgment to acquit the accused or convict the accused. The proceeding will tend to terminate after the acquittal of the accused.
Under Section 248(1), the Magistrate acquits the accused if the accused is found not guilty of the offence. This shall terminate criminal proceedings against the accused.
Non- appearance of death of the complainant
Under Section 256 of CrPC, the Magistrate can acquit the accused in the summon case if the complainant fails to appear on the day appointed for the appearance unless the Magistrate is of the opinion that it is proper to adjourn the proceedings for some other day. Or in the case, where personal attendance of the accused is not required. Similarly, death of a complainant will also lead to the acquittal of the accused.
In Associated Cement Co. Ltd v. Keshawnanda (1997), the Supreme Court dismissed the order of the Magistrate where he has acquitted the accused due to non-appearance, primarily, due to two reasons,
- The complainant had already been examined and the company is not a natural or juristic person, as the company can send any person for the proceedings.
- The provision of Section 256 does not apply.
Inherent powers of high court
Section 482 of CrPC, gives inherent powers to the high court to give orders to prevent abuse of power and secure ends of Justice. In the landmark judgment of Parbatbhai Aahir v. State of Gujarat (2017), the Apex Court laid down guidelines for quashing FIR. The Court observed that the high courts are empowered to quash criminal proceedings or complaints for the purpose of ensuring Justice.
Under Section 306 and Section 307 of CrPC, the courts are empowered to grant conditional pardons to the accused. Where the conditional pardon is granted to the accused, the proceedings against the accused terminate.
Termination of criminal proceedings on the death of the accused
The proceedings tend to terminate after the death of the accused. The purpose of the proceedings is to give justice. Once the accused is dead, carrying on with the proceedings will only lead to the waste of resources
The termination of proceedings mainly takes place through the acquittal of the accused and withdrawal from the prosecution. Whereas, there are several other ways in which proceedings come to an end. The objective of the judiciary is to terminate proceedings by ensuring the completion of the trial so that justice can be ensured to the citizens and also, new matters can be taken up quickly.