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One of the most important stages in the criminal trial is the framing of charge and the courts have to be very careful at the stage of framing the charge. The courts can however discharge the accused if the court is of the opinion that no prima facie is made out against the accused and the accused should not be made to face the trial. Before we get into the factors the court must take into consideration while framing the charge or discharging the accused as the case may be, let us discuss about the provisions which defines about the charge and discharge.

227. Discharge.- If, upon consideration of the record of the case and the documents submitted therewith, and after hearing the submissions of the accused and the prosecution in this behalf, the Judge considers that there is not sufficient ground for proceeding against the accused, he shall discharge the accused and record his reasons for so doing.

228. Framing of charge-

(1) If, after such consideration and hearing as aforesaid, the Judge is of opinion that there is ground for presuming that the accused has committed an offence which-

(a) is not exclusively triable by the Court of Session, he may, frame a charge against the accused and, by order, transfer the case for trial to the Chief Judicial Magistrate or any other Judicial Magistrate of the first class and direct the accused to appear before the Chief Judicial Magistrate, or, as the case may be, the Judicial Magistrate of the first class, on such date as he deems fit, and thereupon such Magistrate shall try the offence in accordance with the procedure for the trial of warrant-cases instituted on a police report;

(b) is exclusively triable by the Court, he shall frame in writing a charge against the accused.

(2) Where the Judge frames any charge under clause (b) of sub-section (1), the charge shall be read and  explained to the accused and the accused shall be asked whether he pleads guilty of the offence charged or claims to be tried."

From the above it is clear that the Judge concerned has to consider all the records of the case, the documents placed, hear the submission of the accused and the prosecution and if there is "not sufficient ground" for proceeding against the accused, he shall discharge the accused by recording reasons. If after such consideration and hearing, as mentioned in Section 227, if the Judge is of the opinion that "there is ground for presuming" that the accused has committed an offence, he is free to direct the accused to appear and try the offence in accordance with the procedure after framing charge in writing against the accused.  

In Union of India vs. Prafulla Kumar Samal and Another, (1979) 3 SCC 4 and Dilawar Balu Kurane vs. State of Maharashtra, (2002) 2 SCC 135 Hon’ble Supreme Court has enumerated the following principles:

“(1) That the Judge while considering the question of framing the charges under Section 227 of the Code has the undoubted power to sift and weigh the evidence for the limited purpose of finding out whether or not a prima facie case against the accused has been made out.

(2) Where the materials placed before the Court disclose grave suspicion against the accused which has not been properly explained the Court will be fully justified in framing a charge and proceeding with the trial.

(3) The test to determine a prima facie case would naturally depend upon the facts of each case and it is difficult to lay down a rule of universal application. By and large however if two views are equally possible and the Judge is satisfied that the evidence produced before him while giving rise to some suspicion but not grave suspicion against the accused, he will be fully within his right to discharge the accused.

(4) That in exercising his jurisdiction under Section 227 of the Code the Judge which under the present Code is a senior and experienced court cannot act merely as a Post Office or a mouthpiece of the prosecution, but has to consider the broad probabilities of the case, the total effect of the evidence and the documents produced before the Court, any basic infirmities appearing in the case and so on. This however does not mean that the Judge should make a roving enquiry into the pros and cons of the matter and weigh the evidence as if he was conducting a trial."

(5) If on the basis of the material on record, the Court could form an opinion that the accused might have committed offence, it can frame the charge, though for conviction the conclusion is required to be proved beyond reasonable doubt that the accused has committed the offence.

(6) At the time of framing of the charges, the probative value of the material on record cannot be gone into but before framing a charge the Court must apply its judicial mind on the material placed on record and must be satisfied that the commission of offence by the accused was possible.

(7) At the stage of Sections 227 and 228, the Court is required to evaluate the material and documents on record with a view to find out if the facts emerging therefrom taken at their face value discloses the existence of all the ingredients constituting the alleged offence. For this limited purpose, sift the evidence as it cannot be expected even at that initial stage to accept all that the prosecution states as gospel truth even if it is opposed to common sense or the broad probabilities of the case.”

Hon’ble Supreme Court recently in Sajjan Kumar vs C.B.I on 20 September, 2010 applied the above-mentioned principles and has confirmed the charges framed by the sessions court saying that “In the light of the above discussion, we are of the view that it cannot be concluded that framing of charges against the appellant by the trial Judge is either bad in law or abuse of process of law or without any material” has directed the court to complete the trail in timely manner following the principles as enumerated in Abdul Rehman Antulay and Ors. vs. R.S. Nayak & Anr., this Court further held:

“It is, therefore, well settled that the right to speedy trial in all criminal persecutions (sic prosecutions) is an inalienable right under Article 21 of the Constitution. This right is applicable not only to the actual proceedings in court but also includes within its sweep the preceding police investigations as well. The right to speedy trial extends equally to all criminal prosecutions and is not confined to any particular category of cases. In every case, where the right to speedy trial is alleged to have been infringed, the court has to perform the balancing act upon taking into consideration all the attendant circumstances, enumerated above, and determine in each case whether the right to speedy trial has been denied in a given case.

Where the court comes to the conclusion that the right to speedy trial of an accused has been infringed, the charges or the conviction, as the case may be, may be quashed unless the court feels that having regard to the nature of offence and other relevant circumstances, quashing of proceedings may not be in the interest of justice. In such a situation, it is open to the court to make an appropriate order as it may deem just and equitable including fixation of time-frame for conclusion of trial."

The above mentioned principles are merely illustrative and every case must be decided on its own facts.

The author can also be reached at Advocate.kapilc@gmail.com

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