Criminal Trial

TRIAL PROCEDURES AND FAIR TRIAL

Criminal cases are divided into two categories namely warrant cases and summons cases. A warrant case is a case relating to an offence punishable with death, imprisonment for life, or imprisonment for a term exceeding two years. Other offences come under the category of summons cases. By definition, a summons case is one where the upper limit of imprisonment that can be awarded is two years and/or fine. Cases punishable with death or imprisonment for life or imprisonment for 10 years and fine, are exclusively triable by the Court of Session. Other cases are triable by Magistrates.

All summons cases and a few enumerated warrant-cases are triable summarily, by all classes of Magistrates including Metropolitan Magistrates, (but not Magistrates of the First Class, unless they are duly empowered) as provided under Section 260 Cr.P.C. But the sentencing power is restricted under S.262 Cr.P.C to a term of imprisonment, not exceeding three months. Section 355 which speaks of “Metropolitan Magistrate’s Judgment” substitutes almost the same proforma of the judgment prescribed under S.263 for summary trials, with the difference, that while under S.264, in cases tried summarily, the Magistrate is enjoined with the duty to “record the substance of the evidence and a judgment containing a brief statement of the reasons for the finding,” whereas, S.355 (i) relating to regular trials by Metropolitan Magistrates provides that in all cases in which an appeal lies from the final order under S.373 or 374(3), “a brief statement of the reasons for the decision” shall also be recorded. The procedure that Metropolitan Magistrates can follow under S.355 is akin to summary procedure. Sub-Section (2) of S.260, provides that if in the course of the summary trial, it appears to the Magistrate that the nature of the case is such that it is undesirable to try it summarily, he shall recall any witnesses who may have been examined and proceed to re-hear the case in the manner provided by the Code.

The procedure for recording evidence varies according to the form of trial. Section 274 Cr.P.C., prescribes that in summons cases and inquiries, “the Magistrate shall, as the examination of each witness proceeds, make a memorandum of the substance of the evidence in the language of the Court”.

The proviso enables the Magistrate to cause such memorandum to be made in writing or from his dictation in open Court” where the Magistrate is unable to make such memorandum himself and records reasons for his inability.

Every criminal trial is a voyage of discovery in which truth is the quest. The operating principles for a fair trial permeate the common law in both civil and criminal contexts. The very basis upon which a judicial process can be resorted to is reasonableness and fairness in a trial. Under our Constitution, as also the international treaties and conventions, the right to get a fair trial is a basic fundamental human right. Any procedure which comes in the way of a party in getting a fair trial would be violative of Article 14 of the Constitution of india.

In the context of Article 21, it has been held In K. Anbazhagan v.superintendent of Police , that
…”Free and fair trial is sine qua non of Article 21 of the Constitution. It is trite law that justice should not only be done but it should be seen to have been done. If the criminal trial is not free and fair and not free from bias, judicial fairness and the criminal justice system would be at stake shaking the confidence of the public in the system and woe would be the rule of law. It is important to note that in such a case the question is not whether the petitioner is actually biased but the question is whether the circumstances are such that there is a reasonable apprehension in the mind of the petitioner.”

Our courts have recognised that the primary object of criminal procedure is to ensure a fair trial of accused persons. The Law Commission has also observed that fair trial relates to character of the court, the venue, the mode of conducting the trial, rights of the accused in relation to defence and other rights. The problem of defining a fair trial has been considered by the supreme Court thus:

“There can be no analytical, all-comprehensive or exhaustive definition of the concept of a fair trial, and it may have to be determined in seemingly infinite variety of actual situations with the ultimate object in mind viz. whether something that was done or said either before or at the trial deprived the quality of fairness to a degree where a miscarriage of justice has resulted. It will not be correct to say that it is only the accused who must be fairly dealt with. That would be turning a Nelson’s eye to the needs of the society at large and the victims or their family members and relatives. Each one has an inbuilt right to be dealt with fairly in a criminal trial. Denial of a fair trial is as much injustice to the accused as is to the victim and the society. Fair trial obviously would mean a trial before an impartial judge, a fair prosecutor and atmosphere of judicial calm. Fair trial means a trial in which bias or prejudice for or against the accused, the witnesses, or the cause which is being tried is eliminated."

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