Image source-https://rb.gy/1l7cnu

This article is written by Ms Reet Balmiki, from NALSAR University of Law. This is an exhaustive article that provides an insight into statutes governing criminal trials and their origin, the rights to be protected during the trial and the trial proceedings as per Indian law. 

Introduction 

True peace is not merely the absence of war, it is the presence of justice.” 

-Jane Addams

A crime is the commission or omission of an act that is prohibited and punishable under criminal law. It is deemed to be socially harmful and dangerous. In modern societies, it is the government that is responsible for maintaining order in society. To ensure order and justice, the government enacted criminal law, developed police systems, courts and prisons. 

Whether the criminal act was committed and should be punished is determined through the procedures of a criminal trial. A trial refers to a meeting in the court of law where a judge is presented with the relevant evidence and decides the guilt or innocence of the person accused of committing the crime. The procedure for criminal trials in India is well established under the statutory frameworks. The laws governing the substantial and procedural aspects of criminal law in India are – 

  1. Indian Penal Code, 1860 (IPC)
  2. The Code Of Criminal Procedure, 1973 (CrPC)
  3. Indian Evidence Act, 1872 (IEA) 

History of the procedures 

During the British raj in India, the British government brought in numerous changes which influenced the country’s legal system considerably. As the system of criminal justice was highly unsatisfactory, they appointed the Indian Law Commission in 1834 to study the existing laws and to recommend legislative reforms to clarify, consolidate and codify particular branches of law. They prepared a draft penal code which was enacted in 1860 and continues to govern the criminal law of the country. The Law Commission also wrote the Code of Criminal Procedure, 1861, which led to the formation of several procedural laws of the country. 

The enactment of the Indian Jury Act led to the official arrival of jury trials across India. Despite popular opinions being against the jury system since the British rule, the need to safeguard the fundamental right of a British citizen to a trial by a jury ensured the survival of the system until independence. The formulation of the Indian Constitution marked the beginning of the decline of the jury system in India. However, the practice was still followed till 1974. After which, the Code of Criminal Procedure removed all references to the jury trials. It is believed that the famous case of K.M.Nanavati v. State of Maharashtra (1961), expressed decades of anti-jury rhetoric and judge’s distrust of common people, which led to the eventual decline of the practice in India. What followed was a transition in the procedure of trials, where the jury was replaced by a judge. 

Rights to be protected during the trial 

There are several rights guaranteed to both the victim and the accused which are to be protected as they impact the trial proceedings to be conducted. The absence of such rights would lead to the denial of a fair trial which is highly unjust to the victim, accused and society.

In order to avoid injustice against the accused and uphold the principle of natural justice, the accused has been guaranteed several rights under the CrPC and the Indian Constitution. These include-

  1. Right to be furnished with a copy of a police report and other documents when proceedings have been instituted on the police report (guaranteed under Section 207 of CrPC).
  2. Right to be supplied with copies of statements and documents to accused in other cases triable by Court of Session (guaranteed under Section 208 of CrPC).
  3. Right to be discharged when there is no sufficient ground for proceedings (guaranteed under Section 277 of CrPC).
  4. Right to present evidence and defend his/her case (guaranteed under Section 243(1) of CrPC).
  5. Right to be present when evidence is taken (guaranteed under Section 273 of CrPC).
  6. Right to be defended by a pleader of his/her choice (guaranteed under Section 303 of CrPC and Article 22(1) of the Constitution).
  7. Right to a pleader at the expense of the state in case of lack of means to engage a pleader (guaranteed under Section 304 of CrPC).
  8. Right to cross-examine a witness (guaranteed under Section 311 of CrPC).
  9. Right to a free and speedy trial (guaranteed under Article 21 of the Constitution)
  10. Right against double jeopardy and self-incrimination (guaranteed under Article 20 of the Constitution).

Similarly, in order to ensure proper justice to the victims and society, several provisions have been enshrined to protect the rights of the victims:

  1. Right to be heard during the criminal proceedings (guaranteed under Article 21 and Article 14 of the Constitution).
  2. Right to attend and be informed about the proceedings and their outcomes.
  3. Right to access to justice and fair treatment (guaranteed under Article 21 of the Constitution).
  4. Right to privacy (guaranteed under Article 21 of the Constitution).
  5. Right to a speedy trial (guaranteed under Article 21 of the Constitution).
  6. Right to seek compensation (guaranteed under Section 357(1)(b) of the CrPC at the discretion of the court).
  7. Right to a fair trial (guaranteed under Article 21 of the Constitution).

After understanding the rights are to be protected, it is now essential to further look at the types of criminal trials and the steps involved in the trial procedure mentioned under Indian criminal law. 

The trial procedure 

Types of criminal trials 

The CrPC provides for different types of criminal trials based on the nature of the offence committed. The trials can mainly be classified under four types- 

The trial of warrant cases by the Magistrates

According to Section 2(x) of CrPC, a warrant case is one related to an offence punishable with death, imprisonment for life or imprisonment for a term exceeding two years. The cases falling under this type are related to serious criminal offences. The trial procedure begins by filing an FIR at the police station or a complaint before a magistrate. 

The trial before a Sessions Court 

Under warrants trials, the cases of higher gravity are tried by the Sessions Court while the cases of lesser gravity are dealt with by the magistrate. As per Section 209 of CrPC, a Sessions Court cannot take cognizance of the case by itself. It has to first be brought before a competent Magistrate Court. From there, if the offence is to be exclusively tried by the Sessions Court, the Magistrate can commit the case to the Sessions Court for trial.  

The trial of summons cases by the Magistrates

According to Section 2(w) of CrPC, a case that is not a warrant case falls under this type. These cases include offences that are punishable with imprisonment of less than two years. However, a magistrate can convert a summons case into a warrant case if he believes the case to not be a summons case. 

Summary of trials 

Summary trials are trials where the cases are disposed of speedily and the summary of the trial is recorded. The procedures of the trials are simplified to expedite the process. These trials involve cases related to small offences. They provide speedy justice and reduce the caseload on the Judiciary.

Stages of a criminal trial

To gain a holistic understanding of the trial process, it becomes important to understand what happens after an offence is committed, the investigation procedure followed under CrPC and how the case lands before the court where the accused is given a fair trial to prove their innocence. For better understanding, this article divides the entire trial into three stages – pre-trial stage, trial stage and post-trial stage. 

Pre-trial stage

Commission of an offence 

For a criminal trial to occur, the first requirement is the commission of a criminal act to be punishable under the Indian Penal Code or any other legal statute passed by the Indian Parliament. The offence can be cognizable or non-cognizable. Under cognizable offences, a police officer has the authority to make an arrest without a warrant and to start an investigation with or without the permission of a court, whereas it is not so for non-cognizable offences. 

Bringing the offence to the notice of the police or before the magistrate

When the offence brought to the notice of the police is cognizable, the police register a First Information Report (FIR) under Section 154 of CrPC and put the case into motion. However, if the offence is non-cognizable, then a report is registered by the police under Section 155 of the CrPC. In such cases, the police do not have the authority to make an arrest or start an investigation in the matter without the order of the magistrate. 

To bring the offence before a magistrate, it has to be done in the form of a complaint as defined under Section 2(d) of CrPC. Once this is done, the magistrate may dismiss the complaint under Section 203 due to lack of sufficient ground or may issue a process under Section 204

The investigation by the police 

The next step after the issuing of an FIR is the investigation by the police officer. This is done in order to collect facts, analyze the circumstances and statements made and to collect evidence for the case. The findings of the investigation are submitted to the Magistrate in the form of a report. 

In cognizable offences, there is no permission required to commence the investigation. However, in non-cognizable offences, prior approval of the Magistrate is essential for this purpose. 

Anticipatory bail

In cases where the offence committed is bailable, after the registration of the FIR, the accused may make an application for an anticipatory bail in the Sessions or High Court. If the bail is granted by the court, the accused cannot be arrested. However, if the bail is rejected, an arrest can be made. 

The arrest of the accused 

In the case of cognizable offences, a direct arrest can be made by the police without a warrant, post the registration of the FIR. However, in the case of non-cognizable offences, prior approval from the Magistrate is necessary to arrest the accused. 

Production of accused before the Magistrate

According to Section 57 of CrPC, no person should be detained by the police for more than 24 hours without a warrant. It is required that the accused be produced before the magistrate having the relevant jurisdiction, within 24 hours of the arrest. 

Remand by Judicial Magistrate

However, Section 57 also mentions that in cases where the investigation is not completed within 24 hours of the arrest, the magistrate can extend the detention by passing a special order under Section 167(2) of CrPC. Therefore, while the procedure requires that the accused has a say before the Magistrate, under special circumstances the procedure allows an extension of the detention period. 

Filing of the final report

After the completion of the investigation, the police are required to file a final report before the magistrate as per Section 173 of CrPC. This concludes the investigation and presents the relevant evidence before the Magistrate. The final report submitted by the police can be of two kinds – a closure report and a charge sheet. 

The closure report, as per Section 169, indicates that the investigating agency feels that no prima facie case is made out to prove that the alleged offence has been committed by the accused. Under this case, the Magistrate may accept the report and close the case or may direct further investigation into the matter. 

The charge sheet is filed in court under Section 173(2) in cases where there is sufficient evidence to proceed with the trial. This is done when the investigating agency feels that there exists certain evidence against the accused. The report consists of the details of the complete investigation and the charges levied against the accused. 

Cognizance of offence by Magistrate

Once the charge sheet is filed by the investigating agency, the Magistrate will take cognizance of the offence under Section 190 and issue a warrant under Section 204.

Service of summons/warrant to accused

After the cognizance of the case by the magistrate, it may issue a summons or warrant to ensure the appearance of the accused in the court during the trial. 

Summons are issued under the seal of the court which is required to be conveyed by a police officer of the court or a public servant to someone personally. It includes the specific date and time whenever the appearance of the person is required for investigations. 

In case a person fails to appear before the court on the said date of the issue of the summons, a warrant of arrest may be issued against the person. The process to compel the appearance of the accused has been laid down under Chapter 6 of the CrPC

The appearance of the accused before the court 

After the court issues the summons or warrant, the accused appears before the court as a result. In this instance, the accused is to engage an advocate of their choice in order to defend their case. 

Filing bail application/ furnishing surety 

In case the offence is bailable, the accused has a right to seek bail as per the conditions under Section 436 of CrPC. As per this provision, it is a mandatory duty of police officers as well as on the court to release the accused on bail if the alleged offence against the person is bailable in nature. This means that the court or the police officers have no other alternative except to allow such an application for bail. 

This Section further makes it clear that a refusal of bail cannot merely be due to the non-availability of a surety. A surety is a person who can be held responsible for the acts of the accused person after release on bail. When the accused seeks bail before the court, the court may ask for a surety from another person. However, the lack of such surety cannot be a reason to not grant bail as per Section 436. 

Similarly, if the person despite the order of surety, if the person fails to furnish a surety within 7 days, it is the duty of the courts or police officers to grant bail if the offence is of such a nature. 

The court decides in response to the final report 

After hearing the side of the public prosecutor and the defence, the court comes to a decision. As discussed earlier, the final report can be of two kinds – a charge sheet or a closure report. 

In case a charge sheet has been filed, the court can either accept or reject it. In case the court rejects the charge sheet, the accused shall be discharged. However, when the court accepts the charge sheet, it accepts the charges framed and posts the case for trial. The case, thus, moves to the next stage. 

When the investigating agency, due to lack of sufficient evidence, files a closure report, the court can either accept or reject the report. In case the court accepts the report, the accused is discharged and the case is closed. However, in cases where the court finds the need for further investigation, it may reject the report and direct the police to further investigation into the matter. In such situations, the case goes back to the investigation step discussed earlier. 

The court may also issue a notice to the first informant as he/she is the only person who can challenge the closure report as per the guidelines issued under the Bhagwat Singh vs. Commissioner of Police (1985) case by the Honourable Supreme Court. 

The Magistrate also may also entirely reject the closure report and take direct cognizance of the case under Section 190. Here, the case proceeds to the next stage. 

Framing of charges 

Once the magistrate either accepts the charge sheet or rejects the closure report, the accused cannot be discharged and the court proceeds to frame the charges which the accused will be tried for as mentioned under Section 228 of CrPC. This section also mentions that once the charges are framed by the court, they are to be read and explained to the accused who can then either plead guilty for the offence being charged with or, be tried before the court. 

Conviction on plea of guilty 

If at this stage, the accused pleads guilty of committing the offence and accepts the charges framed, then the accused may directly be convicted of the charges under Section 229 of CrPC. The magistrate has the right to convict the accused if he/she pleads guilty as per Section 241 of CrPC.

If the accused pleads not guilty

However, if the accused pleads to be not guilty for the commission of the offence being charged with, the case moves forward to trial. 

Trial stage 

Commencement of trial proceedings 

The trial proceedings begin when the case is posted for examination of witnesses. As discussed in the previous sections, there can be four types of trials based on the gravity of the case and the punishment associated with the offence committed.

For criminal cases, the burden of proof mainly lies upon the prosecution to prove at all costs against the defendants. Once the trial commences and the judge is presented with the relevant facts of the case, the prosecution must present evidence to prove the guilt of the accused. 

Stage of evidence of the prosecution 

In case the accused does not plead guilty, the case moves to trial, where the court requires the prosecution to bring forward evidence to prove that the accused has committed the offence. This evidence can also be supported by statements from the witnesses. It can be said that the stage of evidence includes an examination of witnesses from both sides. This includes the chief examination, cross-examination and re-examination. The Magistrate has the power to issue summons to any person to appear as a witness or order them to produce a document. 

Statement of the accused 

After the evidence of the prosecution is presented before the court and recorded, the judge directs the accused to appear before the court and provide his/her statement. Section 313 of CrPC upholds the right of the accused to be heard and provides him/her with an opportunity to explain the circumstances and facts from his/her side. Oath is not administered during the recording of the statement, and anything said by the accused at this stage can be used against him at a later stage in this or any other trial. As a result, if the accused refuses to answer or falsely answers a question, he/she will not be punished for this. 

Defence evidence 

At this stage, the court gives the accused an opportunity to produce any evidence to defend his case. This defence can be both oral evidence and documented evidence. This includes any witnesses that the defendant might want to produce before the court. However, since the burden of proof lies on the prosecution, it is not mandatory for the defendant to produce such evidence. 

Final arguments 

Then comes the final stage of the trial where after a thorough evaluation of the facts and evidence of the case, the prosecution and the defendant present their final arguments before the court. By doing so, they present an overview of their side of the case before the judge. 

Judgement and sentence by the court

After the court examines the facts presented, arguments made and the evidence produced, the Honourable judge(s) pronounces the verdict with reasons for either the conviction or acquittal of the accused. This final decision of the court is known as the judgement and is the outcome of the trial. 

Arguments on sentence 

In case the accused has been convicted, in order to decide the quantum of the punishment to be given, the judge must invite both sides to present their arguments about the period the accused must serve. 

However, in summons cases, the parties need not argue on the quantum of punishment as it is the sole discretion of the judge. 

Judgement of court passing sentence

Based on the arguments on sentence made by both sides, the court then decides the punishment to be granted to the accused. The court takes into consideration various aspects such as age, background, nature of the offence committed and the history of the accused. The court also considers several theories such as the reformative theory. The judge, after a holistic understanding of the case, passes the final sentence of the accused. 

new legal draft

Post-trial stage 

Appeal/Revision 

Once the court delivers the judgement either convicting or acquitting the accused, the party aggrieved by the judgement may approach the court again by the way of an appeal or a revision. 

These two terms are similar as they enable a person to receive a fair hearing, but they have certain differences. Through an appeal, the case is heard again by a different court. However, a revision ensures a check on the jurisdiction and legal action of the trial court by a higher court. While an appeal is a legal right guaranteed under Article 21 of the Constitution, a revision depends on the discretion of the court and is not a matter of right. However, it is required that the appeal be filed within a certain time, and non-filing or delayed filing will lead to the appeal being unsuccessful. 

Judgement of Appellate Court or a court with revised jurisdiction

If the appeal is filed within the appropriate time, the party filing the appeal has a right to a fresh trial before a different court. This court then takes into consideration all evidence produced and arguments made before the court and delivers a revised judgement. 

An appellate court can either affirm the lower court’s judgement or reverse the decision of the lower court. Often, if the Appellant Court finds a minor harmless error it upholds the lower courts decisions. However, in cases where a serious error infringing the rights of the party making the appeal is found, the court overturns the decision of the lower court. Once a higher court reverses the decision of the lower court, for legal purposes, it is as though the first trial never occurred in the first place. 

Execution of sentence 

The execution of the sentence is the last step of the entire trial proceeding and is dealt with under Chapter 32 of CrPC. Once the sentence has been decided by the trial court and has been upheld by the Appellate Court, the sentence must be executed and the accused must serve the relevant term. 

Conclusion 

The trial of a case is the most significant stage of the case. This stage helps judges deliver justice in a manner that is fair to both the accused and the victim. It ensures a proper deliberation upon the matter before deciding whether the accused is guilty or innocent. It provides both sides with an opportunity to argue and refute and scrutinizes the evidence presented before the court. It ensures proper administration of justice in a fair, just and impartial manner. 

Though it is the parliament that lays down the laws protecting the citizens and society, it is the judges that put these laws into practice and ensure that the object of the laws is fulfilled by providing justice at trial. The detailed and thorough procedure of these trials ensures proper deliberation before arriving at a decision and thus, reduces the chance of injustice. The decision is taken by the courts only after proper evaluation of the evidence to clearly determine the guilt or innocence of the accused. The procedure, though lengthy and complex, is essential as it protects the rights of both the victim and the accused. 

This article provides an insight into the meaning of a trial, the statutes governing criminal trials in India and their origin, the rights guaranteed to the accused and the victim to ensure proper justice at trial, the different types of criminal trials in India and an overview of the various stages of a trial under CrPC.  

References


LawSikho has created a telegram group for exchanging legal knowledge, referrals, and various opportunities. You can click on this link and join:

Follow us on Instagram and subscribe to our YouTube channel for more amazing legal content.

LEAVE A REPLY

Please enter your comment!
Please enter your name here