Delays and Lacunae in trials: Supreme Court directs High Courts To Amend Rules that govern Criminal Trials
The Supreme Court (SC) ordered High Courts in India to amend their rules governing criminal trials regarding the incorporation of the draft rules prepared by three Amici Curiae appointed by the SC to address delays and deficiencies in criminal trials. The draft of the rules was prepared by Senior Advocates Siddharth Luthra and R Basant and advocate K Parameshwar.
The SC bench comprising of Chief Justice of India SA Bobde, and Justices L Nageswara Rao and S Ravindra Bhat passed orders that all HCs shall take expeditious steps to incorporate said Draft Rules 2021 as part of rules governing criminal trials ensuring that the existing rules, certifications, orders, and practice.
It further ordered that the HCs shall take expeditious steps to adopt the said draft rules and ensure that existing rules are suitably modified within 6 months.
The SC took suo motu cognizance of the issue after it had noticed inadequacies in the procedure followed during the criminal trials across the country. In its order dated 20 January 2021, the Court stated that some certain inadequacies and deficiencies were relatable to the rules in that regard framed by the various High Courts.
The SC had appointed three amici curiae (named above) who had submitted a detailed report in March 2020. The draft was placed before the SC 'Draft Rules of Criminal Practice, 2020' (draft rules) outlining a slew of measures aimed at addressing shortcomings in the trial of criminal cases and to bring about uniformity of practice across the country in criminal probe and trial.
In the report, it was suggested to include steps ensuring the independence of public prosecutors by appointing separate legal advisors to advise the investigators during the probe, photographing, and video-graphing post-mortem of deceased persons who have died in police custody, and uniform practices for recording evidence and writing judgments.
Following are some of the steps and measures suggested by amicus curiae in their report-
- Body Sketch to accompany Medico-Legal certificate
A medico-legal certificate should be accompanied by a printed format/ sketch of the human body indicating injuries, including front and rear view images.
- Photographs and Video graph of post mortem
If it is a case of death while the person was in the police custody, then the investigating officer must inform the doctor-in charge to arrange for photographs or videography for conducting a post-mortem examination of the deceased person. Photographs of the deceased shall also be taken in all cases.
It shall be considered as part of the investigation and the officer should take necessary steps to preserve the original copies and it should be stored in a separate memory card.
- Site sketch
The investigating officer should prepare a site plan of the place of occurrence of an incident and it should be attached to the panchnama.
The order framing charge shall be accompanied by a formal charge in Form 32, Schedule II, CrPC to be prepared personally by the Presiding Officer after applying mind.
- The procedure of recording evidence
The deposition of witnesses should be recorded both in the language of the witness and in English. When the deposition is not in English, the translation into English can be done either by the presiding officer of the court or through a translator.
- Referring to accused
Once the charges are framed then the accused person should only be referred to by their rank in the array of the accused parties instead of their names, other than the stage of identification of the accused by witnesses.
- Format of witnesses
The deposition of each witness shall be recorded dividing it into separate paragraphs or in a question-answer format, assigning paragraph numbers, naming Prosecution witnesses as PW1, etc., Defense witnesses as DW1, etc., and Court witnesses as CW1, etc.
There should be a preface showing the names of the parties and an appendix giving the list of prosecution witnesses, defense witnesses, and other evidence in the judgment.
The judgment should set out the points for determination, the decision on the points, and the reasons for arriving at the decision. In compliance with Section(S) 354 and 355 of the Criminal Procedure Code, the judgments shall contain the points for determination, the decision thereon, and the reasons for the decision.
The judgment should separately indicate the offense involved in the case of conviction of the accused and the sentence awarded. If the accused is acquitted then a direction should be given to release the accused person(s) who are in jail.
The judgment shall be written in paragraphs and each paragraph shall be numbered in serial. The Presiding Officers may, at their discretion, organize the judgment into different sections.
- Expeditious trial
To ensure a speedy trial in criminal cases, after the commencement of the examination of witnesses the trial should be held on a day-to-day basis.
If witnesses are in attendance, no adjournment or postponement should be granted except for special reasons which should be recorded.
- Separation of prosecutors and Investigators
The State Governments shall appoint advocates, other than Public Prosecutors, to advise the Investigating Officer during the investigation.
- Provisions regarding Bail
A bail application must be disposed of within 3 to 7 days from the date of the first hearing. If it is not done then the Presiding Officer shall furnish reasons for the same.
Copy of the order and the bail application must be furnished to the accused on the date of pronouncement of the order itself.