Introduction

The Criminal Procedure Code, 1973 as the name itself indicates, is a law that deals with criminal procedure. Chapter XX, Section 251 to 259 of CrPC 1973 deals with the procedure for trial of summoning cases before a magistrate. To understand this, we need to know what is Summon and Summon cases are. “Summon” is a document that orders a person to whom it is served to appear before the court and to answer the complaint made against him. Summon is issued by the Magistrate to the accused under section 204(1) (a) of CrPC, 1973.

“Summon case” means a case relating to an offence, not being a warrant case. Summon cases can be referred from the definition of the warrant case i.e., offences punishable with death, imprisonment for life and imprisonment for the terms exceeding two years known as warrant cases. So, summon cases are those in which punishment will not go beyond imprisonment for two years. It can be said that summons cases are not of serious nature, so it needs to be decided speedily, without giving out the requisites of a fair trial. As per the Code, criminal trials can be categorized into three types namely: warrant cases, summons cases and summary trials. The focus of this article shall be summons cases specifically.

Fair trial in summons cases

India has a highly developed criminal jurisprudence and prosecution system, supported by judicial precedents, however, there may be several issues or concerns relating to the execution of the same by Police and implementation by the courts. The courts in India, specifically High Courts and Supreme Court have been proactively guarding the rights of the accused. Even Article 21 of the Constitution of India has been construed in a highly dynamic manner to protect the rights, life and liberty of the citizens, by also including the principles of natural justice. The trial of the summon cases is not so formal like in other trial procedures just for the speedy remedy.

 Sec 2(w) of the Criminal Procedure Code defines summons cases, cases not being warrant cases. Summons cases are less serious cases, which are non –cognizable, bailable and compoundable. Chapter XX of CrPC is exclusively provided for the trial of summons cases by the Magistrate. The salient features of trial procedure in summons cases are dealing in Sec 251 to 259 of Criminal Procedure Code. A fair trial is a constitutional as well as the statutory right of the accused person.

Fair Trial is the heart of criminal jurisprudence and the denial of a fair trial is the denial of human rights as held in Rattiram v. State of Madhya Pradesh. The concept of a fair trial is correlated with the principles of natural justice.

Summons cases v/s warrant cases

A summons case can be converted into a warrant case however a warrant case cannot be transferred into a summons case. The only distinction between the Summon and Warrant cases is the degree of the crime. The difference helps the court in determining the suitable procedure for its trial. When the charge of both cases is considered, the warrant case is given more preference as it is a more serious offence compared to the summons case. In the warrant case, it is punishable with death and life imprisonment and imprisonment of more than two years, in the case of summons case it is a case relating to offence and not being a warrant case.

Procedure of trial in summons cases

Section – 251 (Substance of accusation to be stated)

“When in a summons-case the suspect appears or is brought before the Magistrate, the particulars of the offence of which he is accused shall be stated to him, and he shall be asked whether he pleads guilty or has any defence to make, but it shall not be necessary to form a formal charge.”

It was held necessary in the case of Acharjee Lall, that the accused should have a clear statement made to him as to the particulars of the offence of which he is charged. An accused may not be imprisoned even on his admission of guilt if the prosecution report does not make out an offence under a statute as held in Purushottam Sabra v. State of Orissa. The Court will ask the accused person whether he pleads guilty or not. In Nayan Ram v. Prasanna Kumar, it is held that in case if the accusation is not stated to the accused this is remediable under Section 465 of the Code.

Section – 252 (Conviction on plea of guilty)

“If the accused pleads guilty, the Magistrate shall record the plea as close as possible in the words used by the accused and may, in his discretion convict him thereupon.”

If the accused admits some or all of the charges alleged by the prosecution but pleads “not guilty”, the court is bound to proceed according to law by investigating the witnesses of prosecution and defence.

Section – 253 (Conviction on plea of guilty in absence of accused in trivial cases)

“Where a summons has been issued under section 206 and the accused wishes to plead guilty to the charge without appearing before the Magistrate, he shall convey to the Magistrate, by post or by messenger, a letter containing his plea and also the amount of fine specified in the summons.

The Magistrate may, in his discretion, a convict in his accused in his absence, on his plea of guilty and sentence him to pay the fine specified in the summons, and the amount transmitted by the accused shall be adjusted towards that fine, or where a pleader authorised by the accused in this behalf pleads guilty on behalf of the accused, the Magistrate shall record the plea as close as possible in the words used by the pleader and may, in his discretion, convict the accused on such plea and sentence him as above-mentioned.”

Section 253 of CrPC provides an even simpler procedure for disposing of petty cases in absence of the accused in the court. Where the accused wants to plead guilty without coming into the court, the accused is supposed to send Rs.1000/- by post or through a pleader to the Magistrate. The Magistrate can on his will, convict the accused.

Section – 254 (Procedure when not convicted)

“If the Magistrate does not convict the accused as per section 252 or section 253, the Magistrate shall advance to hear the prosecution and take all such evidence as may be made in support of the prosecution, and also to hear the accused and take all such evidence as he produces in his justification.

The Magistrate may, if he thinks fit, on prosecution’s application or the accused, issue a summons to any witness ordering him to attend or to produce any document or other thing.

A Magistrate may, before summoning any witness on such application, need that the reasonable expenses of the witness incurred in attending for the purposes of the trial be submitted in Court.”

Prosecution Case

The magistrate will listen to the accused and take all the evidence. In the hearing, the prosecution will be given chance to open its case by stating facts and circumstances which constitute the case and by revealing the evidence which he depends on to prove the case. The magistrate on the prosecution’s application serve summons to any witness to attend and to produce any document or thing. The magistrate will prepare the memorandum of the evidence as per section 274.  Same as other trials in summon cases also the magistrate will abide by section 279 i.e., interpretation of evidence to the accused and section 280 i.e., recording of the demeanour of the witnesses.

Defence Case

After the prosecution evidence as per section 254 and examination of defence under section 313, in the furtherance of this, the court will proceed with the defence hearing as per section 254(1). In the defence hearing, the accused will be asked for the accused say against the prosecution evidence. Failure of hearing of the accused in any case will amount to the fundamental error in the criminal trial and it cannot be cured under section 465. Evidence produced by the accused will be recorded in the same manner as in the case of prosecution according to sections 274, 279 & 280. After the submission of the proofs of the defence, he will be allowed to submit his arguments under section 314.

Section – 255 (Acquittal or conviction)

“If the Magistrate, upon taking the evidence as mentioned in section 254 and such further evidence, if any, as he may, of his own motion, cause to be produced, finds the accused not guilt, he shall record an order of exoneration.

Where the Magistrate does not proceed according to the provisions of section 325 or section 360, he shall, if he finds the accused guilty, pass punishment upon him according to law.

A Magistrate may, under section 252 or section 255, convict the accused of any offence triable under this Chapter which form the facts acknowledged or proved he appears to have committed, whatever may be the nature of the complaint or summons, if the Magistrate is satisfied that the accused would not be biased thereby.”

After following the prescribed procedure if the magistrate finds the accused not guilty of the offence, he can acquit him by recording the evidence of acquittal. Also, he has the right to decide to release the accused as per section 360 (Probation of Offender Act, 1958), if the accused is found guilty then he shall be tried under section 325 to 360 CrPC.

If the Magistrate, while discharging or acquitting the accused, thinks that there was no satisfactory ground for making an accusation against the accused person, he may call upon the person making such accusation to show cause as to why he should not pay compensation to the accused person after which the Magistrate may, for reasons to be recorded, pass an order fixing the compensation to be paid by such person to the accused (D.M. Seth v. Ganeshnarayan R. Podar)

Section – 256 (Non – appearance or death of complainant)

“If the summons has been issued on complaint and on the day appointed for the attendance of the accused, or any day subsequent thereto to which the hearing may be adjourned, the complainant does not appear, the Magistrate shall exclude anything hereinbefore contained, acquit the accused unless for some reason he thinks it suitable to adjourn the hearing of the case to some other day:

(Provided that where the complainant is represented by a pleader or by the officer conducting the prosecution or where the Magistrate is of opinion that the personal appearance of the complainant is not necessary, the Magistrate may dispense with his attendance and proceed with the case.)

The provisions of Sub-Section (1) shall, so far as may be, apply also to cases where the non-appearance of the complainant is because of his death.”

Where the complainant does not appear before the court on the due date the court is empowered to acquit the accused unless there is any chance to adjourn the case. This section also applies in the case when the complainant is dead or the legal representative of that person does not appear before the court on due dates. In A.S. Ramakrishna v. S. Rami Reddy case, the complaint died during the trial and a large number of dates were fixed for the hearing but the legal representative of the dead person was absent for about 15 dates continuously but the accused was appearing during the hearing. The magistrate acquitted the accused according to this section.

In another case a complaint was filed by Amit Sibal against Arvind Kejriwal, Delhi Chief Minister alleging defamation (Arvind Kejriwal and others v. Amit Sibal & Anr), the judge of Hon’ble high court Delhi ruled that ‘Magistrate has the power to hear the accused at the time of explanation of the substance of the accusation, and if no violation is made out, Magistrate can drop proceedings against him at that stage only, and the court need not, in all cases, take the matter to a complete trial’. Aggrieved by the judgment, the complainant filed a case before the Supreme Court asserting that the ‘Magistrate has no power to drop proceedings in the absence of provisions in CRPC to that effect’ later the Supreme Court has stayed the order of High Court and directed fresh consideration under section 482 CrPC.

Section – 257 (Withdrawal of complaint)

“If a complainant, at any time before a final order is passed in any case under this Chapter, satisfies the Magistrate that there are enough grounds for permitting him to take back his complaint against the accused, or if there be more than one accused, against all or any of them, the Magistrate may allow him to withdraw the same, and shall thereupon acquit the accused against whom the complaint is so withdrawn.”

If it is satisfied that there is necessary ground to permit the withdrawal of complaint against the convict any time before passing the final order the magistrate may permit the withdrawal of the complaint and acquit the accused.

Section – 258 (Power to stop proceedings in certain cases)

“In any summons-case instituted otherwise than upon complaint, a Magistrate of the first class or, with the previous sanction of the Chief Judicial Magistrate, any other Judicial Magistrate, may, for reasons to be taped by him, stop the proceedings at any stage without laying down any judgment and where such stoppage of proceedings is made after the evidence of the principal witnesses has been recorded, give a judgment of acquittal, and in any other case release, the accused, and such release shall have the effect of discharge.”

Section 258 authorizes the first-class Magistrate, with the prior sanction of the Chief Judicial Magistrate, to stop the proceeding at any stage. Therefore, if he stops the proceeding ‘after record of the evidence’ then it is the pronouncement of a judgment of acquittal, and in case stops ‘before the record of the evidence’ it is released which has the effect of discharge.

Section – 259 (Power of court to convert summons cases into warrant cases)

“When in the course of the trial of a summons-case relating to an offence whose punishment is imprisonment for a term exceeding six months, it appears to the Magistrate that in the interests of justice, the offence should be tried in accordance with the procedure for the trial of warrant-cases, such Magistrate may proceed to re-hear the case in the manner provided by this Code for the trial of warrant-cases and may recall any witness who may have been questioned.”

The words “re-hear the case” point that the Magistrate should commence the proceedings from the very start or de novo.

Conclusion

CrPC is a comprehensive and exhaustive procedural law for conducting a criminal trial in India, including the way for collection of evidence, examination of witnesses, interrogation of accused, arrests, safeguards and procedure to be adopted by Police and Courts, bail, the process of a criminal trial, method of conviction and the rights of the accused of an impartial trial. The procedure for a criminal trial in India, is mainly, except as otherwise provided, governed by The Code of Criminal Procedure, 1973.

If the offence committed is punishable by imprisonment of less than two years, it is regarded as a summons case. In relation to this crime, it is not essential to frame charges. The magistrate issues summons under Section 204 (1) (a) of CrPC, 1973. “Summons case” means a case related to the offence, not a case of a warrant. Chapter XX of the Code of Criminal Procedure begins with Section 252 and ends with Section 259, which governs the procedure of trial in summons cases.

Written By- Amanpreet Kaur, Rajat Thareja             

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