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Indian Case Summary

Hardeep Singh vs State Of Punjab & Ors on 10 January, 2014 – Case Summary

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In the case of Hardeep Singh vs State Of Punjab & Ors on 10 January 2014, the Supreme Court of India was called upon to clarify the scope and extent of the powers of the courts under the criminal justice system to arraign any person as an accused during the course of inquiry or trial as contemplated under Section 319 of the Code of Criminal Procedure, 1973 (Cr.P.C.). The bench, led by Justice B.S. Chauhan, was constituted to resolve a variety of views expressed by the Court and several High Courts of the country on this matter.

Facts of the Case

The case arose from a conflict between the judgments in the case of Rakesh v. State of Haryana, AIR 2001 SC 2521, and a two-Judge Bench decision in the case of Mohd. Shafi v. Mohd. Rafiq & Anr., AIR 2007 SC 1899. The initial reference was made by a two-Judge Bench in the leading case of Hardeep Singh (Crl. Appeal No. 1750 of 2008), where a doubt was expressed about the correctness of the view in the case of Mohd. Shafi (Supra). The doubts led to the framing of two questions by the said Bench.

Issues Before the Court

The Supreme Court was tasked with answering the following questions:

  1. What is the stage at which power under Section 319 Cr.P.C. can be exercised?
  2. Whether the word “evidence” used in Section 319(1) Cr.P.C. could only mean evidence tested by cross-examination or the court can exercise the power under the said provision even on the basis of the statement made in the examination-in-chief of the witness concerned?
  3. Whether the word “evidence” used in Section 319(1) Cr.P.C. has been used in a comprehensive sense and includes the evidence collected during investigation or the word “evidence” is limited to the evidence recorded during trial?
  4. What is the nature of the satisfaction required to invoke the power under Section 319 Cr.P.C. to arraign an accused? Whether the power under Section 319(1) Cr.P.C. can be exercised only if the court is satisfied that the accused summoned will in all likelihood be convicted?
  5. Does the power under Section 319 Cr.P.C. extend to persons not named in the FIR or named in the FIR but not charged or who have been discharged?

Court’s Observations

The Court observed that the power conferred under Section 319 Cr.P.C. is only on the court. The court is the sole repository of justice and a duty is cast upon it to uphold the rule of law and, therefore, it will be inappropriate to deny the existence of such powers with the courts in our criminal justice system where it is not uncommon that the real accused, at times, get away by manipulating the investigating and/or the prosecuting agency.

The Court also noted that the power under Section 319 Cr.P.C. allows the court to proceed against any person who is not an accused in a case before it. Thus, the person against whom summons are issued in exercise of such powers, has to necessarily not be an accused already facing trial. He can either be a person named in Column 2 of the chargesheet filed under Section 173 Cr.P.C. or a person whose name has been disclosed in any material before the court that is to be considered for the purpose of trying the offence, but not investigated. He has to be a person whose complicity may be indicated and connected with the commission of the offence.

The Court further clarified that the stage of inquiry commences, insofar as the court is concerned, with the filing of the

charge-sheet and the consideration of the material collected by the prosecution, that is mentioned in the charge-sheet for the purpose of trying the accused. This has to be understood in terms of Section 2(g) Cr.P.C., which defines an inquiry as every inquiry, other than a trial, conducted under this Code by a Magistrate or Court.

The Court also held that trial is distinct from an inquiry and must necessarily succeed it. The purpose of the trial is to fasten the responsibility upon a person on the basis of facts presented and evidence led in this behalf.

Court’s Decision

The Court, after considering the submissions raised and the material on record, held that the power under Section 319 Cr.P.C. is exercisable only by the court and not by any officer not acting as a court. It clarified that the stage of inquiry commences, insofar as the court is concerned, with the filing of the charge-sheet and the consideration of the material collected by the prosecution, that is mentioned in the charge-sheet for the purpose of trying the accused.

The Court also held that the power under Section 319 Cr.P.C. allows the court to proceed against any person who is not an accused in a case before it. The person against whom summons are issued in exercise of such powers, has to necessarily not be an accused already facing trial.

The Court further clarified that the stage of inquiry commences, insofar as the court is concerned, with the filing of the charge-sheet and the consideration of the material collected by the prosecution, that is mentioned in the charge-sheet for the purpose of trying the accused.

The Court concluded that the power under Section 319 Cr.P.C. is an enabling provision empowering the court to take appropriate steps for proceeding against any person not being an accused for also having committed the offence under trial. It is the duty of the Court to do justice by punishing the real culprit. Where the investigating agency for any reason does not array one of the real culprits as an accused, the court is not powerless in calling the said accused to face trial. The question remains under what circumstances and at what stage should the court exercise its power as contemplated in Section 319 Cr.P.C.?

This case thus provides a comprehensive understanding of the scope and extent of the powers of the courts under the criminal justice system to arraign any person as an accused during the course of inquiry or trial as contemplated under Section 319 of the Code of Criminal Procedure, 1973 (Cr.P.C.).