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Right To Fair Trial In India: All You Need To Know

Trials are an inevitable aspect of achieving justice. Trials must be conducted properly following all procedures and steps in order for them to be fair and free from influences. A fair trial is a public trial by an impartial judge in which all parties are treated equally. The right to a fair trial is one of the basic guarantees of human rights and the rule of law, and aims to ensure the administration of justice.

A fair trial includes fair and adequate opportunities permitted by law to establish innocence. The right to a fair trial is a norm of international human rights law and has also been adopted by many countries such as procedural law; India too has adopted this law and it is enshrined in the Constitution of India.

The concept of a fair trial is a fundamental principle in every judicial system. The concept of a fair trial in another way ensures justice. A trial in jurisprudence is a forensic examination or determination of cases before the court to reach a conclusion whether or not the accused is guilty of a crime. As the Supreme Court has noted in various cases, there is no comprehensive definition of fair trial.

The Principles of Fair Trial

Adversary Trial System: It is a system adopted by the Code of Criminal Procedure of 1973 on the basis of the accusatory method, which includes an accusation by the public prosecutor and a judgment reached by an impartial judge. In the case of Himanshu Singh Sabharva v. Daula M. and Ors. [3]

The Supreme Court has held that if the court has grounds to believe that the prosecuting agency or the public prosecutor is not acting in accordance with fair trial procedures as prescribed by law, then the court can exercise its power under Section 165 of the Indian Evidence Act, 1872 to uphold the cause of justice .

Presumption of innocence: This principle is considered one of the most important principles of a fair trial, which protects the accused from arbitrary and wrongful conviction.

Independent, impartial and competent judges: Proceedings must be administered by a competent, independent and impartial judge) / tribunal. Section 479 of the Code expressly prohibits any judge or magistrate from trying any case in which he or she is a party or personally interested.

Double jeopardy principle: Section 300 of the Code of Criminal Procedure talks about the principle of "double culpability" which states that if a person is tried and acquitted or convicted of a crime he cannot be tried again. This doctrine is additionally included in Article 20 (3) of the Constitution of India.

Place of trial: In line with Article 177 of the Code of Criminal Procedure, each offense must normally be investigated and tried by a court within its local jurisdiction. In the case of Rajendra Ram Chandra Kavalekar v. State of Maharashtra, it was noted that the territorial jurisdiction of the court in relation to the criminal offense would be determined on the basis of the place where the accident occurred. The provisions of Articles 179 to 189 are designed to facilitate a fair trial.

Concept of Fair Trial under International law

The principles in the concept of fair trial prevalent in modern countries stem from international laws. The signatories to the agreements were forced to enact provisions in their municipal laws.

Article 10 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights states:

"Everyone has, in full equality, the right to a fair and public trial by an independent and impartial court, to determine his rights and obligations and any criminal charge against him."

Article 11(1) further states that a person accused of an offence shall be presumed innocent until proven guilty. And he shall be declared guilty only at the end of a public trial in which he was provided with an opportunity to defend himself.

Article 11(2) speaks about the prohibition of ex post facto law in which no person shall be declared guilty of an offence which didn't constitute a penal offence at the time when it was committed. Nor shall a heavier penalty be imposed than the one that was applicable at the time the penal offence was committed.

Article 14(1) of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights states that:
"All persons shall be equal before the courts and tribunals. In the determination of any criminal charge against him, or of his rights and obligations in a suit at law, everyone shall be entitled to a fair and public hearing by a competent, independent and impartial tribunal established by law. The press and the public may be excluded from all or part of a trial for reasons of morals, public order (order public) or national security in a democratic society, or when the interest of the private lives of the parties so requires, or to the extent strictly necessary in the opinion of the court in special circumstances where publicity would prejudice the interests of justice; but any judgement rendered in a criminal case or in a suit at law shall be made public except where the interest of juvenile persons otherwise requires or the proceedings concern matrimonial disputes or the guardianship of children"

Right to fair trial under Constitution of India

The Constitution of India is the final law of the land. It provides a basic framework for the administration of the criminal justice system.

Article 20(1) prohibits ex-post facto law. That is no one can be punished for an act which was not an offence at the time when he committed it. Also a person shall not be subjected to a penalty greater than that which might have been inflicted under the law in force at the time of the commission of the offence

Article 20(2) mandates that no one shall be prosecuted and punished for the same offence more than once.

Article 20(3) says that No person accused of any offence shall be compelled to be a witness against himself.

Article 21 prescribes that a person shall not be deprived of his personal liberty except according to a procedure established by law.

Article 22(1) no one shall be arrested or detained in the custody without informing the cause and he shall be intimated with his right including the right to consult a lawyer and bail at the time of such arrest.

Article 22(2) mandates that a person arrested shall be produced before the nearest Magistrate within 24 hours of his arrest.

Article 39A imposes duty upon the state to provide legal aid for the persons who are unable to afford them.

Under the Code of Criminal Procedure, 1973

Section 273 mandates that the all the evidence taken during a trial or any other proceedings shall be taken in the presence of the accused except as otherwise expressly provided.

Section.278 mandates that the evidence of each witness shall be read over to the witness in the presence of the accused or to his pleader. If the evidence was given in a language not understood by an accused, it shall be interpreted to him in an open court in a language understood by him.

Section 281 mandates that the substance of examination of the accused by a magistrate shall be read over to him in a language understood by the accused and it shall be signed by him.

Section 300 says that a person who was tried by a court of competent jurisdiction for an offence and was acquitted or convicted as the case may be, shall not be tried for the same offence again. Section 303 says that a person who has been accused of an offence in a criminal court has the right to be defended by a pleader of his choice. Section.304 mandates that an accused person who is unable to engage a pleader shall be provided with legal aid at the cost of the State.

Section 313 of the Code deals with the power of the court to examine the accused but no oath shall be administered to the accused when he is to be examined.

The concept of a fair trial is undoubtedly the backbone of any judicial system. The trial must be fair to the accused, the victim, and society as a whole. Although the branches and elements of a fair trial change like any other aspect of the law, it is nonetheless a basic principle that must be adhered to.

And nowadays, when an informational trial is more popular than a judicial trial, it is very necessary for the courts not to ignore any of these principles. Court staff remain neutral to influences from within and outside the institution. All means must be provided for the victim as well as the accused to present their case.

"Equality, justice and freedom" is the fair trial trinity recognized in the administration of justice in India wherein the rich and the "lowly and the lost" have equal access to justice in the administration of justice in general and in the criminal justice system specifically.

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