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Trial Of Warrant Cases Under The Code Of Criminal Procedure, 1973

Though the term trail is not defined in the Code, it can be said to be a judicial proceedings in acquittal or conviction. For the purpose of determining the mode of trial, generally all criminal cases are divided into 2 categories:
  1. Offences punishable with death, imprisonment for life or imprisonment for a term exceeding 2 years (warrant cases) and
  2. Other offences (summon cases).
Warrant case means a case relating to an offence punishable with death, imprisonment for life, or imprisonment for a term exceeding two years. They are usually the cognizable offences which are serious or grievous in nature and in which the police arrests without warrant. More serious among warrant cases are triable by a court of session while the remaining warrant cases are triable by Magistrates.

Chapter XIX (sec 283-243) of the Code of Criminal Procedure prescribes different procedures by dividing warrant cases triable by Magistrates into two groups:
  1. Warrant cases instituted on a police report (sec 283-243)
  2. Warrant cases instituted otherwise than a police report (sec 244-247).

Trial Of Warrant Cases By Magistrates [1]

A warrant case is a case relating to an offence punishable with death, imprisonment for life or imprisonment for a term exceeding two years. A warrant case may be instituted on a police report as well as otherwise than on a police report.[2]

Cases instituted on a police report:
The pre-trial phase
Section 190(1)(b) provides that the Magistrate may take cognizance of any offence upon a police report of such facts. The police report must state facts which constitute the offence.[3]

Section 238 says that when in any warrant case is instituted on a police report, the accused appears or is brought before the magistrate at the time of the commencement of the trial, the , magistrate shall comply with the provisions of Section 207[4].

The object of this provision is to enable the accused to have an all round picture of the case against him even at the commencement of the enquiry and in order to enable him to cross examine the witnesses on such defence as he may set up and to avoid delay. Sometimes it may be necessary to discontinue the groundless prosecution half way and discharge the accused to avoid unwarranted trial process which will ultimately result in acquittal.

Section 239:
If, upon considering the police report and the documents sent with it under section 173 and making such examination, if any, of the accused as the Magistrate thinks necessary and after giving the prosecution and the accused an opportunity of being heard, the Magistrate considers the charge against the accused to be groundless, he shall discharge the accused, and record his reasons for so doing.

The word "discharge" here means a discharge in relation to the specific offence for which the accused has been charged. An order of discharge cannot be said to bad in law on the ground that section 217 [5]was mentioned instead of Section 239 in order of discharge. This section should be read with Section 240.It is the duty of the court to frame charges and the court must consider over the matter judiciously. This Section enjoins upon the Magistrate to record his reasons for discharging the accused.[6]

Section 240 (1) says that upon consideration of the police report and the documents sent with it , the examination of the accused , and hearing the parties , if the magistrates concludes that there are sufficient grounds for presuming that the accused has committed an offence , the magistrate shall frame in writing a charge against the accused. The examination of the accused aforesaid is to afford an opportunity to the accused to explain any circumstance appearing against him.

Section 240 (2) requires that the charge should not only be read out should also be explain to the accused in a manner which ensures that the accused has understood it properly. Under this section based upon the facts as well as the police report submitted to the magistrate the charges are framed. So basically it is all about formally pronouncing the charges.

Section 241 If the accused pleads guilty, the Magistrate shall record the plea and may, in his discretion, convict him thereon.

So this says that on questioning if an accused pleads guilty to the charges framed against him/her under section 240, the magistrate shall record the plea and on his discretion convict him. If the accused is convicted on his plea of guilty the magistrate shall hear the accused on the question of sentence and then pass sentence on him according to law.

The actual trial phase
Under Section 242:
  1. If the accused refuses to plead, or does not plead, or claims to be tried, or the Magistrate does not convict the accused under section 241, the Magistrate shall fix a date for the examination of witnesses.
     
  2. The Magistrate may, on the application of the prosecution, issue a summons to any of its witnesses directing him to attend or to produce any document or other thing.
     
  3. On the date so fixed, the Magistrate shall proceed to take all such evidence as may be produced in support of the prosecution: Provided that the Magistrate may permit the cross- examination of any witness to be deferred until any other witness or witnesses have been examined or recall any witness for further cross- examination. This section says that if the accused refuses to plead guilty or claims to be tried the magistrate shall proceed to take all such evidence as may be produced in support of the prosecution. The magistrate takes all the evidence adduced by the prosecution, and he cannot acquit the accused after taking only part of the prosecution evidence.
After the witnesses for the prosecution have been examined and before the accused is called for in his defense. Section 313(1)(b) requires the court to question the accused person for the purpose of enabling him to explain any circumstances appearing in evidence against him.

Section 243
  1. The accused shall then be called upon to enter upon his defence and produce his evidence; and if the accused puts in any written statement, the Magistrate shall file it with the record.
     
  2. If the accused, after he has entered upon his defence, applies to the Magistrate to issue any process for compelling the attendance of any witness for the purpose of examination or cross- examination, or the production of any document or other thing, the Magistrate shall issue such. Process unless he considers that such application should be refused on the ground that it is made for the purpose of vexation or delay or for defeating the ends of justice and such ground shall be recorded by him in writing. Provided that, when the accused has cross- examined or had the opportunity of cross- examining any witness before entering on his defence, the attendance of such witness shall not be compelled under this section, unless the Magistrate is satisfied that it is necessary for the ends of justice.[7]
     
  3. The Magistrate may, before summoning any witness on an application under sub- section (2), require that the reasonable expenses incurred by the witness in attending for the purposes of the trial be deposited in Court.

This section enables the accused to apply to the magistrate to issue any process for compelling the attendance of any witness for the purpose of examination or cross examination or the production of any document or other thing. Section243 (1) makes it mandatory for the magistrate to file with the record , any written statement submitted by the accused . Section 315- Enables the accused to present himself as a witness and he has to do so by writing a prayer to the judge beforehand. After the completion of the defense evidence , the defense can address concise oral arguments and may submit to the court a memorandum in support to the case.

Cases Instituted Otherwise Than On A Police Report:

The pre-trial phase
In warrant cases instituted on other than police report i.e. in case of a complain case, copies and record of the documents are not available to the court and to the accused person , which makes the preliminary hearing of the prosecution desirable. In such warrant cases the magistrate may, on application of the prosecution issue a summon to any of the places directing him to attend or to produce any document or other thing. This is provided in section 244.[8]

Under section 200 it is obligatory on the part of the magistrate to examine the complainant and the witnesses. Section 202 enables the magistrate to postpone the issue of process and to form an opinion as to whether the process should be issued or not. The objective of this section is to prevent abuse of process resulting in wastage of time of the court and harassment to the accused.

Under section 203 a magistrate may dismiss a complaint if after considering a statement or not of the complainant and of the witnesses and the result of enquiry or investigation, there is no sufficient ground of proceeding . Section 204 if after the examination of the complaint there are sufficient grounds for proceedings, in the opinion of the magistrate he may issue process .No summons and warrant can be issued against the accused under section 204(1) until a list of the prosecution witnesses has been filed.[9]

The actual trial phase
Section 242 says that if the accused refuses to plead guilty or claims to be tried the magistrate shall proceed to take all such evidence as may be produced in support of the prosecution. The magistrate is take all the evidence adduced by the prosecution, and he cannot acquit the accused after taking only part of the prosecution evidence.

Section 244 says that since the copies and records are not available to the court and to the accused the evidence for prosecution in such case is collected by the magistrate and the accused is made to appear before the magistrate. Under section 245 if the magistrate after considering all the evidences is of the opinion that there are the no sufficient grounds on which the case against the accused could be held, the magistrate shall discharge him.

Section 246 says that after the examination of the evidences if the magistrate concludes that there are sufficient grounds on the basis of which the accusation has been made he shall frame a charge against the accused . Section 246 (2) gives the right to the accused to be read and explained the charge and shall be asked whether he pleads guilty or has any defence to make.

Section 246(3) says that on questioning if an accused pleads guilty the magistrate shall record the plea and his discretion convict him. If the accused is convicted on his plea of guilty the magistrate shall hear the accused on the question of sentence and then pass sentence on him according to law.

Section 246(4) provides that the magistrate may give an aid to the accused to state the commencement of the next hearing of the case so as to give time to the accused to decide whether he wishes to cross examine any of the prosecution witnesses after framing of the charge. If the accused, under section 246(5) says that he wishes to cross examine the witnesses, the witnesses named by him shall be called and shall be discharged after the completion of the examination process.

The arguments on behalf of the prosecution and the examination of the accused person had been discussed under sections- 242, 313(1)(b) and 243

Section 247 makes it mandatory for the magistrate to file with the record , any written statement submitted by the accused. After the completion of the defense evidence , the defense can address concise oral arguments and may submit to the court a memorandum in support to the case.

The post trial phase
Under section 248 after the arguments of the defence and reasons of the magistrate shall either convict or acquit the accused. If after the framing of charges the magistrate finds the accused innocent he shall record an order of acquittal but after the proceedings if the accused is found guilty then the magistrate may after hearing the accused on the question of sentence shall pass a sentence upon him according to law.

In a warrant case a magistrate is competent to pass an order after the charge is framed, either acquitting the accused or convicting him for the offence. There is no provision of law which enables the magistrate to dismiss the complaint or pass an order of discharge in a warrant case after framing a charge.

In section 249 it has been provided that when the proceedings have been instituted upon a complaint and on the day of hearing the complainant is not present the accused may be discharged if the offence is non cognizable one. Section 250 of the code is designed for the payment of compensation to those accused against whom the complaints are brought in court without any reasonable ground for the accusation.

Landmark Judgements
State of Mizoram v. K.Lalruata[10]
The defendant was an officer assistant in the railway out agency, Govt. Of Mizoram he sold 7 numbers of railway tickets for Silchar to Bombay to one K. L. Muana for a certain sum of money which was found to be misappropriate hence a case was filed in the ground of section 409 [11]of Indian Penal Code. The learned special Judge discharged the accused on two grounds. The first ground is that the learned Public Prosecutor was absent in spite of repeated adjournments. The second ground is that the copies of the documents referred to S. 173, Cr.P.C. have not been furnished to the accused in complete violation of the mandatory provisions of S. 207, Cr.P.C.

From a plain reading of the above provision of S. 239, it is a crystal clear that the discharge of the accused under this Section can be made only for reason that the accusation against the accused is groundless.

Before discharging the accused under this section the following preliminaries have to be gone through:
  1. Consideration of police report and the documents referred to in S. 173 and which are furnished to the accused
  2. Examination if any, of the accused as the Magistrate thinks necessary
  3. Giving prosecution and the accused an opportunity of being heard. And then to consider whether the charge is groundless.
Thus the Magistrate before either passing an order of discharge under this section or framing a charge under S. 240 has first to determine whether the material before him furnishes a reasonable basis for foundation of the accusation. In the present case, as stated above, the Magistrate discharged the accused solely on the grounds that the learned Public Prosecutor was absent on that day and that the documents referred to under S. 173 have not been furnished to the accused.

Therefore, the learned Special Judge committed an error of law in discharging the accused without satisfying himself as to whether the material before him furnishes a reasonable basis for foundation of the accusation. After all, when copies of the relevant documents are produced before the Court and have been supplied to the accused, the accused cannot be discharged on the ground of failure of the prosecution to produce the records in original.

Ajoy Kumar Ghose v. State of Jharkhand[12]
The application filed by the appellant under section 245(2) was rejected by the trial court, it cannot straightway proceed to frame charge under section 246(1) even without any evidence having been taken under section 244.The right of the accused to cross-examine the witnesses at the stage of section 244(1) Crpc Code would be completely lost, if the view is taken that even without the evidence a charge can be framed under section 246(1) Crpc code. The right of the cross-examination is a very salutary right and the accused would have to be given an opportunity to cross-examine the witnesses, who have offered at the stage of section 244(1) Crpc Code.[13]

Conclusion
The Code of Criminal Procedure, 1973 (the CrPC) is the procedural law providing the machinery for punishment of offenders under the substantive criminal law, be it the Indian Penal Code, 1860 or any other penal statute.

The CrPC contains elaborate details about the procedure to be followed in every investigation, inquiry and trial, for every offence under the Indian Penal Code or under any other law. It divides the procedure to be followed for administration of criminal justice into three stages: namely investigation, inquiry and trial.

Investigation is a preliminary stage conducted by the police and usually starts after the recording of a First Information Report (FIR) in the police station. If the officer-in-charge of a police station suspects the commission of an offence, from statement of FIR or when the magistrate directs or otherwise, the officer or any subordinate officer is duty-bound to proceed to the spot to investigate facts and circumstances of the case and if necessary, takes measures for the discovery and arrest of the offender.

Inquiry consists of a magistrate, either on receiving a police report or upon a complaint by any other person, being satisfied of the facts.

Trial is the judicial adjudication of a personís guilt or innocence. Under the CrPC, criminal trials have been categorized into three divisions having different procedures, called warrant, summons and summary trials.

Our project deals with trials on warrant cases where the offences are cognizable in nature. Now warrant cases filed on a police report is very much different from warrant cases filed on a complaint. In the latter, there is no supply of copies to the magistrate and the issue of process can be postponed while in the former there is supply of copies and the issue of process takes place after cognizance by the magistrate.

End-Notes:
  1. The post- trial phase of both types of warrant cases are inter-related. Thus, it has been dealt with together.
  2. R.V. KELKAR, CRIMINAL PROEDURE, Chapter- 20, Trial Procedures: Trial of Warrant Cases by Magistrates.
  3. S.N. MISHRA, The Code Of Criminal Procedure, 1973, Chapter-14, Conditions requisite for initiation of proceedings.
  4. Section 207- this section provides that the accused should be given relevant documents or extract from them, in cases where proceeding has been instituted on a police report , so that the accused is able to know the charged brought against him and the materials with the aid of which the charge is going to be substantiated by the prosecution.
  5. Section 217- Court may alter charge.
  6. S.N. MISHRA, The Code Of Criminal Procedure, 1973, Chapter-19, pg 387
  7. Takwani, 3rd edition , p 185, p 2-4.
  8. Supra, note-7.
  9. S.N. MISHRA, The Code Of Criminal Procedure, 1973, Chapter-15, Complaints to Magistrates.
  10. 1992 Cr. L.J. 970 (Gau)
  11. SECTION 409 of IPC- Criminal breach of trust by public servant, or by banker, merchant or agent.-- Whoever, being in any manner entrusted with property, or with any dominion over property in his capacity of a public servant or in the way of his business as a banker, merchant, factor, broker, attorney or agent, commits criminal breach of trust in respect of that property, shall be punished with 1[ imprisonment for life], or with imprisonment of either description for a term which may extend to ten years, and shall also be liable to fine.
  12. (2009) 3 Cr. L.J. 2824 (S.C)
  13. S.N. MISHRA, The Code Of Criminal Procedure, 1973, Chapter 19, pg 393

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