The process of criminal trial in India
The Code of Criminal Procedure, 1973 (the CrPC) is a procedural law. It provides the mechanism for punishment of offenders under the substantive criminal law, ie; Indian Penal Code, 1860 (IPC) or any other penal statute.
The CrPC contains detailed provisions related to investigation, inquiry and trial.
Investigation is a first step after filing of First Information Report (FIR). Once investigation is complete, final report is submitted to the court who is competent to hold trial. In case on perusal of final report so submitted by the police, the trial court finds prima facie case to proceed with, a charge sheet is framed against the accused person and thereafter the trial starts in the following manners.
1. Summoning of accused
After submission of final report before the competent criminal court, summons are issued by the court to the accused person to come present on the date fixed by the court for the said purpose.
2. Procedure on first date of appearance of accused person before trial court
On the first date, when accused person puts in appearance, he has to furnish bail bonds in the sum with or without surety, as the court may direct. Thereafter, the accused person is supplied with all the documents submitted by the police alongwith its final report so as to enable accused person to determine his defence.
3. Framing of charge or giving of notice
At this stage, the judge sifts and weighs the evidence for the purpose of finding out whether or not a prima facie case against the accused has been made out. In case the material placed before the court alongwith final report submitted by the police discloses grave suspicion against the accused that has not been properly explained, the court frames the charge and proceeds with the trial. If, on the contrary, upon consideration of the record of the case and documents submitted, and after hearing the accused person and the prosecution in this behalf, the judge considers that there is not sufficient ground for proceeding, the judge discharges the accused and records reasons for doing so.
In case the charge is framed, the same is read out to the accused in language he understands and he is afforded an opportunity either to admit his guilt or else chose to proceed with trial. In case accused chooses to proceed with trial, next steps commences thereafter.
4. Recording of prosecution evidence
At first instance the prosecution examines its witnesses as per the list submitted by it alongwith final report before the court. The statement of witnesses is on oath. This is called examination-in-chief. The accused has a right to cross-examine all the witnesses presented by the prosecution. Section 309 of the CrPC provides that the proceeding shall be held as expeditiously as possible and in particular, when the examination of witnesses has once begun, the same shall be continued day-to-day until all the witnesses in attendance have been examined.
5. Statement of accused
The court has powers to examine the accused at any stage of inquiry or trial for the purpose of eliciting any explanation against incriminating circumstances appearing before it. However, it is mandatory for the court to question the accused after examining the evidence of the prosecution if it incriminates the accused. This examination is without oath and before the accused enters a defence. The purpose of this examination is to give the accused a reasonable opportunity to explain incriminating facts and circumstances in the case. At this stage, accused is also asked whether he wants to lead his evidence or not. In case, the accused chooses to lead his evidence, then next step follows.
6. Defence evidence
If after taking the evidence for the prosecution, examining the accused and hearing the prosecution and defence, the judge considers that there is no evidence that the accused has committed the offence, the judge is required to record the order of acquittal.
However, when the accused is not acquitted for absence of evidence, a defence must be entered and evidence adduced in its support. The accused may produce witnesses who may be willing to depose in support of the defence. The accused person is also a competent witness under the law. The accused may apply for the issue of process for compelling attendance of any witness or the production of any document or thing. The witnesses produced by him are cross-examined by the prosecution.
The accused person is entitled to present evidence in case he so desires after recording of his statement. The witnesses produced by him are cross-examined by the prosecution. Most accused persons do not lead defence evidence. One of the major reasons for this is that India follows the common law system where the burden of proof is on the prosecution, and the degree of proof required in a criminal trial is beyond reasonable doubt.
7. Final arguments
This is the final stage of the trial. The provisions of the CrPC provide that when examination of the witnesses for the defence, if any, is complete, the prosecutor shall sum up the prosecution case and the accused is entitled to reply.
After conclusion of arguments by the prosecutor and defence, the judge pronounces his judgment in the trial.
Here it is relevant to mention that the CrPC also contains detailed provisions for compounding of offences. It lists various compoundable offences under the Indian Penal Code, of which 21 may be compounded by the specified aggrieved party without the permission of the court and 36 that can be compounded only after securing the permission of the court. Compounding of offences brings a trial to an end.
Under the CrPC an accused can also be withdrawn from prosecution at any stage of trial with the permission of the court. If the accused is allowed to be withdrawn from prosecution prior to framing of charge, this is a discharge, while in cases where such withdrawal is allowed after framing of charge, it is acquittal.
In case, the accused has been held guilty and sentenced, in that case the accused has a right to file appeal before the next court. On the other hand, if the accused has been acquitted, the prosecution can also file appeal likewise.