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By Harsha Sawant, Advocate | Nov 30, 2020

Criminal trial

A criminal trial is designed to resolve accusations levied (usually by the State) against a person accused of a crime. The rights afforded to criminal defendants are typically broad. The rules of criminal procedure provide rules for criminal trials.

A criminal trial can be understood by the procedural understanding of the functioning of criminal courts wherein, it is a stage, that begins after framing the charge and ends with conviction or acquittal.

An English trial in simple words, can be defined as a formal examination of evidence by a judge, typically before a jury, in order to decide guilt in a case of criminal or civil proceedings.

In India the system of jury has long been abolished. A criminal trial however is the analysis and examination of Evidence in order to either convict or acquit the alleged accused.

Criminal trials in India are conducted as per the provisions of the Code of Criminal Procedure, 1973.

Types of Trials as per the Code of Criminal Procedure

As per CRPC the procedure to conduct trial of an accused charged with an offence is distinguished as per the tenure of Punishment of the alleged offence. The trial of an accused as per the Offence committed by him is divided into five parts.

1. Complaints to Magistrate
2. Sessions Trial
3. Warrant Trial
4. Summons Trial
5. Summary Trial

I. Complaints to Magistrates.

This is discussed under Chapter XV under the provisions of section 200 of Cr PC. If both the local police station and the superior officer refuse to register an FIR, the informant/Complainant can approach the Magistrate under Section 156(3) of Cr PC seeking direction to the police to investigate in the matter and further Issue Process directing the Superior Police Officer having jurisdiction to arrest the Accused and further register an FIR.

The Procedure for conducting trial when a private Complaint is made to the Magistrate is discussed under Sections 200 to 210 of the Cr PC.

In Devarapalli Lakshminarayana Reddy[1] the Supreme Court explained the power of the Magistrate under Section 156(3) and Sections 200 and 202 of Cr PC. The following discussion and ultimate conclusion are relevant which reads as under:

It is well settled that when a Magistrate receives a complaint, he is not bound to take cognizance if the facts alleged in the complaint, disclose the commission of an offence. This is clear from the use of the words “may take cognizance” which in the context in which they occur cannot be equated with “must take cognizance”. The word “may” gives discretion to the Magistrate in the matter. If on a reading of the complaint he finds that the allegations therein disclose a cognizable offence and the forwarding of the complaint to the police for investigation under Section 156(3) will be conducive to justice and save the valuable time of the Magistrate from being wasted in enquiring into a matter which was primarily the duty of the police to investigate, he will be justified in adopting that course as an alternative to taking cognizance of the offence, himself.

II. Sessions Trial.

The act classifies certain categories of cases, which are triable by the Sessions Judge. In compliance with S. 209 of the Cr PC when the accused appears before the Magistrate, the Magistrate shall further commit the case before the Court of Sessions. Provisions for trial of a Sessions Case are provided under Chapter XVIII from section 225 to 237 of Cr PC.

Also for an offence to be tried by the Court of Sessions, the tenure of punishment shall be more than seven years of imprisonment or Life imprisonment or Death. All sexual offences against Women and Children are tried by the Sessions Court.

III. Trial of Warrant Cases.

Warrant Triable Cases are classified under chapter XIX. Offences punishable for a tenure of more than 2 years of Imprisonment or more are tried as warrant cases.

A trial in a warrant case begins either by filing an FIR in a Police Station or by filing a Complaint before a Magistrate. Procedure for trial of Warrant Cases is provided under section 238 to 250 of Cr PC.

IV. Trial of Summons Cases.

Any offences wherein the tenure of punishment does not exceed two years shall be categorized as summons cases. Trial of cases by summons procedure is provided in Chapter XX of the Code from sections 251 to 259.

V. Summary Trials.

The Procedure for trial of a Summary triable case is similar to that of a warrant and summons case. However, the difference is that the evidence in such trials is not discussed exhaustively and they are majorly petty offences. Summary trials are discussed in details in Chapter XXI of Cr PC from section 260 to 265.
No sentence of imprisonment for a term exceeding three months shall be passed in the case of any conviction under this Chapter.

“Trial of cases by summons procedure is provided in Chapter XX of the Code. Instead of Charge being framed, substance of accusation is to be read over to the accused and his plea has to be recorded. Prosecution evidence and the defense evidence is required to be taken but evidence is not to be recorded or dealt with in the manner provided under Sections 275, 278 and 279 of the Code memorandum of substance of the evidence is prepared and that is not required to be read over to the witness nor his signature is required to be taken. Procedure for summary trial is prescribed in Chapter XXI of the code. The procedure for summary trials is exactly the same as the procedure for trial of summons cases. Warrant case procedure being more elaborate provides better opportunity to the accused to defend himself. The summons or summary procedure is prescribed only for trial of comparatively minor offences involving comparatively lesser sentences. In serious cases, it is open to the Magistrate to convert summons case into a warrant case, as seen in Section 259 of the Code. The purpose of providing summons of summary procedure is to shorten the record and the work of the Magistrate and save his time. The power of the Magistrate to try cases summarily under Section 209 is discretionary. The offences under the Act being offences against the health and wellbeing of people, it is necessary that these cases should be dealt with expeditiously.”

Jagdish Prasad vs. State of M.P. and Ors. (03.01.1995 – MPHC)[2]

“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.

Thus, the Magistrate is not expected to record full evidence which he would have been, otherwise required to record in a regular trial and his judgment should also contain a brief statement of the reasons for the finding and not elaborate reasons which otherwise he would have been required to record in regular trials.”

J.V. Baharuni and Ors. vs. State of Gujarat and Ors. (16.10.2014 – SC)[3]

Procedure for conducting Criminal Trials.

Chapters XV to XXI state the procedure for conducting Criminal Trial.

Every Trial begins post producing the Police Report (charge sheet) in the Court having Jurisdiction to try the offence and further presenting the Accused before the Magistrate. At this step the offence alleged upon the Accused is explained to him and he is asked whether he pleads guilty to the alleged offence. If the Accused pleads guilty, the Magistrate grants him Conviction whereas, if the accused pleads not guilty the Magistrate shall proceed with the trial by Examination-in-chief of the prosecution witnesses, followed by the cross-examination by the Defense of the Prosecution witnesses and further by presenting defense witnesses for Examination-in-chief and Cross-examination by the Prosecution.

However, upon receiving of the Police Report the Magistrate finds that the Case is Sessions Triable, he shall further commit the case to Sessions Court where in the procedure is then conducted by the Sessions Court Judge in the similar manner as above.

In situation wherein the Complaint is directly made to the Magistrate it will be categorized as cases instituted otherwise than on a Police Report. In this scenario the Magistrate shall examine the Complainant upon oath, post which at the discretion of the Magistrate as per Section 200 of Cr PC, he shall take cognizance of the offence and issue process against the Accused. After process is issued against the Accused if the offences illustrate that the case is a Summons Case, a Summons is issued to the Accused whereas if the case is a Warrant Case a warrant may be issued to him and he may be arrested by the Police Authorities.

An exception to the procedure of conducting a trial, is a Summary Triable Case where in the Evidence lead by the Prosecution is not at length and Judgement contains a brief statement of the reason for finding the same is recorded.

Upon taking Evidence if the Magistrate finds the Accused not guilty he shall record an order of Acquittal. Where in case the Accused is proven Guilty of the alleged offence the Magistrate shall after hearing the accused on the question of sentence, pass sentence upon him according to law.

India has a highly developed criminal jurisprudence and prosecution system, supported by judicial precedents. There are however many issues and concerns relating to the execution of the same by Police and implementation by Judiciary. The courts in India, particularly High Courts and Supreme Court have been proactively guarding the rights of the accused. Even Article 21 of the Constitution of India has been interpreted in a highly dynamic manner to protect the rights, life, and liberty of the citizens, by also incorporating the principles of natural justice.

[1] MANU/SC/0108/1976
[2] MANU/MP/0636/1995
[3] MANU/SC/0995/2014