Supreme Court: After noticing common deficiencies which occur in the course of criminal trials and certain practices adopted by trial courts in criminal proceedings as well as in the disposal of criminal cases and causes, the 3-judge bench of SA Bobde, CJ and L. Nageswara Rao and S. Ravindra Bhatt, JJ has directed all High Courts to take expeditious steps to incorporate the Draft Rules of Criminal Practice, 2021 as part of the rules governing criminal trials, and ensure that the existing rules, notifications, orders and practice directions are suitably modified, and promulgated (wherever necessary through the Official Gazette) within 6 months.
If the state government’s co-operation is necessary in this regard, the approval of the concerned department or departments, and the formal notification of the said Draft Rules, shall be made within the said period of six months.
Further, the state governments, as well as the Union of India (in relation to investigating agencies in its control) shall carry out consequential amendments to their police and other manuals, within six months from today.
The Draft Rules are to be finalised based on the following observations:
- The lack of uniform practices in regard to preparation of injury reports, deposition of witnesses, translation of statements, numbering and nomenclature of witnesses, labeling of material objects, etc., often lead to asymmetries and hamper appreciation of evidence, which in turn has a tendency of prolonging proceedings, especially at the appellate stages.
- While furnishing the list of statements, documents and material objects under Sections 207/208, Cr. PC, the magistrate should also ensure that a list of other materials, (such as statements, or objects/documents seized, but not relied on) should be furnished to the accused. This is to ensure that in case the accused is of the view that such materials are necessary to be produced for a proper and just trial, she or he may seek appropriate orders, under the CrPC for their production during the trial, in the interests of justice.
- During a trial, in terms of Section 132, every witness is bound to answer the questions she or he is asked; however, that is subject to the caveat that he or she is entitled to claim silence, if the answers incriminate him or her, by virtue of Article 20 (3) of the Constitution. Every judge who presides over a criminal trial, has the authority and duty to decide on the validity or relevance of questions asked of witnesses.
- Apart from Section 148, there are other provisions of the Evidence Act (Sections 149-154) which define the ground rules for cross examination. During questioning, no doubt, the counsel for the party seeking cross examination has considerable leeway; cross examination is not confined to matters in issue, but extends to all relevant facts. However, if the court is not empowered to rule, during the proceeding, whether a line of questioning is relevant, the danger lies in irrelevant, vague and speculative answers entering the record. Further, based on the answers to what (subsequently turn out to be irrelevant, vague or otherwise impermissible questions) more questions might be asked and answered. If this process were to be repeated in case of most witnesses, the record would be cluttered with a jumble of irrelevant details, which at best can be distracting, and at worst, prejudicial to the accused.
The presiding officer therefore, should decide objections to questions, during the course of the proceeding, or failing it at the end of the deposition of the concerned witness. This will result in decluttering the record, and, what is more, also have a salutary effect of preventing frivolous objections.
In given cases, if the court is of the opinion that repeated objections have been taken, the remedy of costs, depending on the nature of obstruction, and the proclivity of the line of questioning, may be resorted to.
- The courts in all criminal trials should, at the beginning of the trial, i.e. after summoning of the accused, and framing of charges, hold a preliminary case management hearing. This hearing may take place immediately after the framing of the charge. In this hearing, the court should consider the total number of witnesses, and classify them as eyewitness, material witness, formal witness (who would be asked to produce documents, etc) and experts.
At that stage, the court should consider whether the parties are in a position to admit any document (including report of experts, or any document that may be produced by the accused, or relied on by her or him). If so, the exercise of admission/denial may be carried out under Section 294, Cr. PC, for which a specific date may be fixed. The schedule of recording of witnesses should then be fixed, by giving consecutive dates. Each date so fixed, should be scheduled for a specific number of witnesses.
However, the concerned witnesses may be bound down to appear for 2-3 consecutive dates, in case their depositions are not concluded. Also, in case any witness does not appear, or cannot be examined, the court 8 shall indicate a fixed date for such purpose. The recording of deposition of witnesses shall then be taken up, after the scheduling exercise is complete.
[IN RE: TO ISSUE CERTAIN GUIDELINES REGARDING INADEQUACIES AND DEFICIENCIES IN CRIMINAL TRIALS, 2021 SCC OnLine SC 329, order dated 20.04.2021]
Amici Curiae: Senior Advocates Siddharth Luthra and R. Basanth and Advocate K. Parameshwar, assisted by Advocates A. Karthik, Mehak Jaggi and M.V. Mukunda