Karnataka High Court: A Division Bench of Abhay Shreeniwas Oka, CJ and S. Vishwajith Shetty, J., in view of the present situation of COVID-19 outbreak held that,
“…course adopted by the Courts while recording the plea of the accused and recording the statement of the accused under Section 313 of CrPC through video conferencing hearing will be a step taken to reduce the physical presence of the stakeholders in the Courts precincts to meet the exceptional situation and to secure the functioning of the Courts by following the best possible health practice.”
First issue is of framing charge by procuring presence of accused through Video Conferencing.
- 1st Situation: Accused is in judicial custody
- 2nd Situation: Accused is on bail.
Another Issue — Whether the examination of the accused under clause (b) of sub-section (1) of Section 313 CrPC can be recorded by procuring the presence of the accused by Video Conferencing.
The above stated two issues will be examined in context of COVID-19 pandemic.
Issue of framing charge: Section 228 CrPC
In the Sessions triable cases and warrant triable cases, the charge framed by the Judge had to be read over and explained to the accused and then the accused is required to be asked whether he pleads guilty or claims to be tried.
In case of both the categories of trials, the plea of the accused after charge is read over and explained is required to be recorded.
In summons triable cases, there is a specific provision in Section 252 mandating that in the event the accused pleads guilty, the Magistrate shall record the plea as for as practicable in the words used by the accused.
Thus, it follows that in case of all three categories of trials, plea of the accused is required to be recorded.
For recording plea, the presence of the accused before the Court is necessary.
The question is whether such presence can be procured through Video Conferencing?
In accordance to the video Conferencing Rules laid down by this Court,
“…at the time of framing of charge and at the time of recording of plea, the presence of the accused before the Court can be procured through Video Conferencing.”
There is practice followed by the Courts to take the signature of the accused on the plea. In case the accused is in jail a copy of the plea can be e-mailed to the coordinator. In case accused is on bail, the same procedure can be adopted by the coordinator.
Supreme Court’s decision in Contagion of COVID 19 virus in Prisons, In Re., Suo Motu WP(C) No. 1 of 2020 was referred, wherein the following was decided:
no undertrial prisoner can be produced before the Court for recording his plea and for recording his examination under clause (b) of sub-section (1) of Section 313 of CrPC during the period of pandemic.
According to the Video Conferencing Rules and particularly Rule 11.2, it is stated that Courts can record the statement of the accused under Section 313 of CrPC through Video Conferencing.
Recording the statement by procuring presence of the accused by Video Conferencing Hearing
Jail superintendent or the officer-in-charge of the prison will be the coordinator at the remote point of the prison. Before recording the statement and in the midst of recording the statement, theJudge can put questions to the accused to ascertain whether he is clearly audible and whether the accused understood the questions posed to him. Judge may record this in the statement to that effect. If the signature of the accused is required, a copy of the written statement recorded can be sent by e-mail to the Jail authorities.
Hence in view of the above, matter is disposed of. [High Court of Karnataka v. State of Karnataka, WP No. 7338 of 2020, decided on 22-06-2020]