This article has been written by Manu Seth pursuing a Certificate Course in Introduction to Legal Drafting: Contracts, Petitions, Opinions & Articles from LawSikho.

This article has been edited and published by Shashwat Kaushik.

Definition of trial

The term ‘Trial’ per se is not defined anywhere but can be aptly described as the chief governing document dealing with criminal adjudication in the country, viz., the Code of Criminal Procedure, 1973. 

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The trial can be defined as recreating before the court of law “what had really happened” and seeking adjudication thereof in the light of prevailing law in terms of the evidence produced by either the prosecution or the defence (accused), resulting in either acquittal or conviction of the accused. Commonly understood, however, it means the proceedings taken in court from the stage of framing of the charge and ending with the conviction or acquittal.

A charge is a written notice of the precise and specific accusation against the accused, which he is required to meet. A charge can be framed if there is a prima facie case.

Types of trials

The Code of Criminal Procedure, 1973, prescribes three kinds of trials for adjudicating criminal cases, which are:

  • Trial of Warrant Cases by Magistrates (Chapter XIX)
  • Trial of Summons-Cases by Magistrates ( Chapter XX)
  • Summary Trials (Chapter XXI)

Before understanding the meaning and differences between the three, it is essential to understand how proceedings happen before the Court of Magistrates as well as that of Sessions by discussing Chapters XVI (Sec. 204-210) and XVIII (Sec. 225-237) of the Cr.P.C., 1973. 

Chapter XVI illustrates the proceedings before the Magistrate Courts in which the Magistrate concerned issues summons or warrants  for causing the appearance of the accused after taking cognizance of the case. Further, when a case is instituted based on a police report or otherwise and after having the accused present before the Magistrate, if it appears that the case is triable exclusively by the Court of Session, the same shall be transferred after providing the report to the accused filed by the police upon completion of the investigation.

Chapter XVIII discusses the procedure involved in a trial before the Court of Sessions, which is enumerated in pointers as under

  • Prosecution shall be conducted by a public prosecutor.
  • Upon the appearance of the accused, the prosecutor describes the charge against the accused and the evidence proposed to prove the same.
  • Considering the documents of the prosecution and the submissions made by the prosecution as well as the accused, if the magistrate considers there is insufficient ground to proceed, she shall discharge the accused along with her reasons for doing so.
  • If there are grounds for presuming that the offence has been committed, a charge is framed against the accused, asking him if he pleads guilty to such an offence or claims to be tried. 
  • If the accused pleads guilty, his plea is recorded, and the judge concerned may, in his discretion, convict him thereon.
  • If the accused claims trial, he’d be tried either by the same court or by another in terms of competency concerning the offence.

Trial of Warrant Cases by Magistrates

The definition of a warrant case can be understood by referring to Sec. 2(x) of the Code of Criminal Procedure, 1973 as per which:

“ 2. Definitions.- In this Code, unless the context otherwise requires,-

(x) “warrant case” means a case relating to an offence punishable with death, imprisonment for life or imprisonment for a term exceeding two years; ”

In addition to this, a bare perusal of Schedule 1 as annexed to the Code would give a better insight into the classification of offences and punishment prescribed thereto, along with the court where such an offence is triable. 

Trial of warrant cases is prescribed under Chapter XIX of the Code of Criminal Procedure, 1973 and would involve two distinct approaches, viz. 

(a) case instituted based on police report (Sec. 238-243 r/w Sec. 248-250 and 275 Cr.P.C. ); 

(b) case instituted otherwise than on police report (Sec. 244-247 r/w Sec. 248-250 and 275 Cr.P.C.).

The Hon’ble Supreme Court in Ratilal Bhaji v. State of Maharashtra clarified that in a warrant and session trial, the trial starts with the framing of the charge.

Cases instituted based on police reports

Such cases come into motion once the police report or charge sheet is filed before the magistrate and he is satisfied with the supply of the police report to the accused. Under the process, if the Magistrate, considering the police report along with supporting documents and after being heard by both the prosecution and the accused thinks that the charges on which the accused ought to be put to trial are groundless, the Magistrate shall discharge the accused or if there are sufficient grounds for proceeding against the accused, charges are framed in writing wherein he is questioned about his admission into the alleged offence and whether he is guilty of such an offence or claims trial. Further, the matter proceeds with the evidence to be presented from either side, based on which the magistrate decides whether the accused is guilty of the offence.

In the case of P. Saravanan vs. State, it is emphasised that recording a plea of guilty under Section 241 (or Section 229 in a session case) often occurs after reading the charge to the accused. The charge must be specific and unambiguous and the accused’s admission must be clear and unconditional.

Cases instituted otherwise than on police report

Such cases come into motion based on a written complaint before the Magistrate as a procedure enumerated under Sec. 200 of the Cr.P.C., 1973. Upon the accused’s appearance before the magistrate, the evidence that the complainant intends to produce is recorded through prosecution. This process extends to the magistrate issuing summons to any witness (which includes producing a document) that the complainant intends to produce in support of his case. If the evidence recorded in the opinion of the Magistrate does not warrant conviction of the accused, then he shall be discharged, and if it’s otherwise, wherein the light of the evidence recorded presumes the participation of the accused in the offence alleged (which the Magistrate is competent to try), charges are framed against such accused in writing, asking whether he pleads guilty or claims trial. If the accused claims trial, then the case proceeds with cross-examination of witnesses who have deposed against him, followed by defence evidence, followed by the culmination of the trial, wherein the judge decides acquittal or conviction.

Under this category, where the charges are yet to be framed, the magistrate is empowered to discharge the accused in cases where the evidence recorded highlights no offence against the accused or where the magistrate believes that the charge against an accused is futile or groundless. The Hon’ble Supreme Court in V.C. Shukla vs. State Through CBI, it was opined that

“The purpose of framing a charge is to give the accused clear, unambiguous and precise notice of the nature of the accusation that the accused is called upon to meet in the course of a trial.”

Trial of summons cases by magistrates

Sec. 2(w) of the Code of Criminal Procedure, 1973 defines a summons case as follows:

“ 2. Definitions.- In this Code, unless the context otherwise requires,-

(w) “summons-case” means a case relating to an offence and not a warrant-case;”

Implying that offences are classified under First Schedule, which are not 

  • Punishable with death;
  • Imprisonment for life; or
  • Imprisonment for a term exceeding two years;

is covered under its ambit. 

The necessity of framing a formal charge, as is the case with a warrant trial, is not required here. If the person accused of an offence pleads guilty, the magistrate shall record his plea and, in its discretion, proceed to convict him. If the accused does not plead guilty, the magistrate proceeds to record evidence from both the prosecution and defence sides, allowing a fair hearing for both sides. This includes permitting witnesses from either side to appear and depose before the court to prove any fact or document that is being relied upon. 

Subsequently, the magistrate, if it finds the accused not guilty, shall record his order of acquittal or, if otherwise, shall hold the accused guilty and accordingly pass an order of sentence.

During a trial where the Magistrate believes that the interest of justice demands that the offence for which the accused is tried is punishable for a term more than six months and that such accused be tried in terms of procedure established for the trial of warrant cases, such Magistrate may proceed to rehear in the manner defined.

Petty offences:

The aspect of petty offence (any offence punishable with a fine less than Rs. 2,000/-) has also been dealt with under this chapter, wherein if summons issued to the accused speak of appearance before the court and the accused desires to plead guilty to the charge without appearing before the Magistrate, he shall, through post or messenger, send a letter specifying his plea in addition to the fine as mentioned in the summons.

Non-appearance or death of complainant:

Where the day is fixed for the appearance of the accused and the complainant is absent/does not appear before the Court, the Magistrate shall acquit the accused unless circumstances demand to adjourn the matter to some other date.

 In cases where the personal appearance of the complainant, in the opinion of the magistrate, is not necessary or if he appears through a pleader or public prosecutor, the magistrate has the discretion to dispense with such personal presence.  

Withdrawal of complaint:

Acquittal of the accused can also happen in cases where the complainant satisfies the magistrate’s request that he be permitted to withdraw his complaint against the accused.

Summary trial

A summary trial is a procedure established for the quick disposal of less serious offences by a Chief Judicial Magistrate, Metropolitan Magistrate or Magistrate of the 1st Class empowered by the High Court where:

  • The offences are not punishable with death, life imprisonment or imprisonment for more than 2 years.
  • The offence of theft where the value of the property stolen does not exceed Rs 2,000/-.
  • The offence of receiving or retaining stolen property where the value of the property does not exceed Rs 2,000/-.
  • The offence of assisting in the concealment or disposal of the stolen property where the value of the property does not exceed Rs 2,000/-.
  • The offences relating to lurking house-trespass or house-breaking to the commission of the offence are punishable with imprisonment for 3 years and a fine or lurking house-trespass or house-breaking after preparation made for causing hurt, assault, etc. where the imprisonment carries for a term of 10 years along with fine. 
  • The offence of insult with the intent to provoke a breach of peace and criminal intimidation.
  • Abetment of any of the foregoing offences.
  • An attempt to commit any of the foregoing offences is an offence.
  • Any offence under the Cattle-Trespass Act, 1871.

The procedure involved in dealing with Summary trials is similar to that of as trials for summons cases, apart from the fact that the sentence term must not exceed three months in case of conviction. It is important to note that in the case of a trial under this procedure, the magistrate concerned notes the evidence and basis of judgement in brief, stating his reasons for sustaining such findings. As is the situation with summons cases, no charge is formally framed apart from the brief substance of the accusation along with the plea of the accused as stated under Sec. 251 and 252 Cr.P.C.

The Hon’ble Supreme Court in State of Bihar v. Deokaran Nenshi and Others (1972) held that the essence lies in providing a speedy and inexpensive trial to the accused. It emphasised that summary cases should not be turned into mini-trials by allowing unnecessary adjournments or permitting extensive cross-examinations.


The different methods involved in conducting trials, which have been classified on the basis of the seriousness of offences, have been extensively dealt with under the Code of Criminal Procedure, 1973 for the purposes of expediency. 

Though trial in general takes an unusually long time considering the effort and labour involved in the production of the accused (in case he is not on bail), gathering evidence from witnesses presented by either the prosecution or the accused amidst the miscellaneous administrative tasks that judicial officers are often consigned with for the smooth functioning of the judiciary, its applicability is essential and important for adherence to the rule of law, ensuring that the third pillar of the world’s largest democracy remains sacrosanct towards the Constitution.



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