- Charge is a written document issued by the Court stating the allegations against the accused to inform him regarding his offences and the reason behind his trial
- Form of Charge is the content of the charge. It includes the particulars which are related to the charge.
- Joinder of Charge describes how several offences alleged against the same person can be tried jointly.
What if I invade into your house once day, captivate you in a jail and present you before the Court for a trial without informing you regarding anything? Sounds so vague and null, isn’t it?
Our Indian legal system which has been framed with the bits and pieces of all the major constitutions of the world have prevented such arbitrary behaviour to the wrong-doers. Unlike America and other countries, Indian law states that a criminal should know that under which head he has been charged against. By doing this, the trial proceedings can be carried out in a speedy manner as well as in a fair way.
Generally, the prime object of charge is to inform the accused regarding what he is being tried for and why he is being tried. This has been clearly explained in the case of V.C. Shukla v. State [1980 AIR 962]. The case upholds that the primary purpose of framing a charge is to give an intimidation to the accused regarding the nature of the accusation for which the accused is summoned to the course of a trial1.
DEFINITION OF “CHARGE”
Let’s move forward to understand the definition of charge. Section 2 (b) of the Code of Criminal Procedure (Cr.P.C) gives the statutory meaning of a charge and states that it “includes any head of charge when the charge contains more heads than one”. This is a very inclusive definition and it does not clearly explains the meaning of charge. So to understand the meaning, we need to decode the statement and interpret it with an example. Suppose, a man enters into the house of another person, steals his belongings, murders him and runs away. Then several offences are committed by him under a single act. Therefore, all the offences are said to be the “heads of charge”. Individually yet together, all of these offences are tagged as “charge”.
The framing of charge is a very important step before executing a criminal trial. Without a proper structure, the trial might not reach to a conclusion. The Courts must be very cautious while building the framework of the charges as it will lead to different paths and portray various conclusions.
A criminal trial begins with examining the accused by explaining him the accusation made against him in his vernacular language. According to Section 239 Cr.P.C in case of warrant cases, the charges framed against the accused and substance of the accusation shall be read over to him. Under Section 251 Cr.P.C, the accused has the right to know the subject of the accusation stated against him. The section reads out that “when in a summons- case the accused appears or is brought before the Magistrate, the particulars of the offence of which he is accused shall be stated to him and he shall be asked whether he pleads guilty or has any defence to make.” But then no formal charge is required to be framed. Section 226 Cr.P.C gives power to the prosecutor to open the case of the accused by describing the charges brought against him and stating the evidences which he proposes to prove the guilt of the accused.
Chapter XVII of the Code of Criminal Procedure, 1973 deals with “The Charges”. There are two parts under this Chapter. Part A deals with the form of charges (Section 211 to Section 217) and Part B deals with Joinder of Charges (Section 218 to Section 224).
FORM OF CHARGE (Section 211 to Section 217)
Charge is defined as a precise formulation of the specific accusation made against an accused who has the right to know its nature at the very earliest stage. Charges are framed by the Court itself. But before framing these charges, the Court carries out proceedings against the accused which is called Trial. In fact, a charge itself separates the process of inquiry from trial. Section 211 to Section 214 of the Cr.P.C explains that “charge” is a written allegation made by a court.
Section 211 briefly points out the pattern of the contents of charge (in accordance to The Second Schedule, FORM NO. 32 of Cr.P.C) like name of the offence, the section of the offence committed, date and place of previous convictions committed by the accused. In the case of Mohd. Akbar Dar v. State of Jammu Kashmir[AIR 1981 SC 1548], the Court held that meticulous consideration of evidence and other materials is not necessary to frame a charge.
Section 212 mandates to mention the time and place of alleged offence as well as the name of the person or thing against whom the it was committed, in the particulars of the charge. Sub section (2) states to mention the gross sum in case of breach of trust or criminal misappropriation of money. In Kadiri Kunhahammad v. State of Madras [AIR 1960 SC 661], the Court said that a charge for criminal breach of trust framed in contravention of proviso mentioned in sub section (2) of this section is merely an irregularity then it can be cured under both Section 215 & 464 of the Code and will not vitiate the trial when the accused is not prejudiced.
The above mentioned two sections frame the General Contents of a Charge.
Section 211(7) and Section 213 frames out the special contents of a charge. Section 213 orders to mention the manner in which the offence has been committed by the accused in the charge sheet. This provision comes into purview only when the particulars mentioned in Section 211 and 212 do not give sufficient notice of the matter.
Section 214 says that in every charge words used in describing an offence shall be deemed to have been used in the sense attached to them respectively by law under which such offence is punishable. The judgement given in the case of Mohan Singh v. State of Bihar clearly explained the provisions related to this section under point 17.
- IS A DEFECTIVE CHARGE NECESSARILY FATAL TO CONVICTION?
Section 215 deals with the effects of errors in the charge or a defective charge. It explains that if there are any errors or omission in the charge then it will not be considered material unless the accused was in fact misled or there has been a failure of justice. This section was upheld in the case ofOm Prakash v. State of UP [AIR 1960 SC 409]. Also Section 464 in Cr.P.C states the effect of omission to frame, or absence, or error in, charge.
- ALTERATION OR ADDITITON OF CHARGE
Section 216 speaks about the power of the Court in case of alteration of a charge. It gives the power to alter or add to any charge at any time before judgement is pronounced. But there are certain provisions related to the alteration of charge. The alteration of the charge must be brought to notice of the accused and explained to him as is mentioned in the case of Sabbi Mallesu v. State of A.P. [(2006) 10 SCC 543].Kantilal Chandulal Mehta v. State of Maharashtra [(1969) 3 SCC 166: (1970) SCC (Cri) 19] rules that the Code gives ample power to the Courts to alter or amend a charge.
Section 217 provides for recalling the witnesses when the charge is altered or added.
JOINDER OF CHARGES
This topic comes under Part B of Chapter XVII of the Criminal Procedure Code, 1973. Section 218 to Section 224 deals with “Joinder of Charges”. This part is inserted in this Code to prevent any kind of prejudice that might develop in the Magistrate’s mind regarding the character of the accused person due to his offences.
Section 218 explains thst every distinct offence shall be a separate charge and every charge shall be tried separately. In Kamalanantha v. State of Tamil Nadu [(2005)5 SCC 194: AIR 2005 SC 2132], it was upheld that if a trial is proceeded without framing separate charges for each distinct offence then it is an irregularity and this can be cured under Section 464 and 465 of Cr.P.C provided that there was no failure of justice. This section also highlights a proviso for the accused that he can submit a writing to the Magistrate to try together all or any number of charges framed against him if it would cause no prejudice as such. Application can be given under this provision only when the all the distinct offences of that person is tried under the same Magistrate. This was mentioned in the case of State of Punjab v. Rajesh Syal [(2002) 8 SCC 158].
EXCEPTIONS OF SECTION 218
Section 219 states if a person is accused of committing three offences of same kind within a year then all of the offences may be charged with and tried at one trial.
Section 220 elaborates that offences which are committed in the course of same transaction may be charged with and tried at one trial. It lists out several provisions related to this.
Section 221 provides that if a single act or a series of act is of such a nature that it is doubtful which of several offences the facts should be proved, then the accused may be charged with having committed all or any of such offences. Any number of such charge may be tried at once or he may be charged in the alternatively.
Section 222 says that if the accused is charged with an offence that consist several particulars, some of which if combined and proved to be a minor offence then the accused shall be convicted for that minor offence even if it was not mentioned.
Section 223 specifically handles the class of persons who can be tried jointly. This section permits a joint trial of several persons under specified circumstances.
Section 224 states that when a charge containing mire heads than one is framed against the same person then the officer conducting the prosecution may with the remove the remaining charges with the consent of the Court provided that conviction of one or more of them has already been performed against him.
The Code of Criminal Procedure, 1973 is a very elaborate Act which specifies the manner in which the criminals must be prosecuted. The topic of “charge” has been flawlessly narrated. It has given equal powers and rights to the Court and the accused person. Hence, if this document is efficiently utilised by our learned Magistrates then the judiciary will run very smoothly ensuring speedy and fair delivery of justice.