The code of Criminal Procedure Code (hereinafter referred to as “CrPC” or “code”) provides for mechanism and manner in which criminal trial should be conducted in India. The foremost and essential objective of the code is to ensure a fair trial. The code treats the accused innocent until he was convicted, at the same time ensuring that a criminal must not roam around freely without any punishment.

The code provides for three phases of criminal mechanism to determine the liability of the accused and punish him. The first phase is pre-trial, which includes information to police or complaint before the court, investigation by police and cognizance by the court. Second is the trial phase which consists of the trial of the accused before the court, and the third and the last phase is the post-trial phase which includes the appeal by accused or victim, review by either of the parties and request for revision of the decision by the parties.

Among these, the most crucial phase is the trial phase because it determines whether the accused will be convicted or acquitted. The trial phase further includes various stages which shall be followed to determine the liability of the accused. This article talks about those different stages of the trial in a criminal case.

What is trial and when it COMMENCE?

The word ‘Trial’ is not defined under CrPC. However, in common parlance trial is defined as the process of adjudication of guilt of a person or his innocence. In the case of Union of India v. Maj. Gen. Madan Lal Yadav[1] the apex court has defined trial as an “Act of proving or judicial examination or determination of the issues including its own jurisdiction or authority in accordance with law or adjudging guilt or innocence of the accused including all steps necessary thereto”.

As per section 26 of CrPC, the power of trial of a case is vested with the High Court[2], session’s court or any other court in which the offence in question is triable according to the first schedule of CrPC. The section further provides that the offence of rape wherever it is practical, ‘shall’ be tried by women judge only.

After framing charges against accused the trial commences and comes into motion. However, in complaint case, the trial starts once the court issues the process.

For all of the offences there are three types of trial in India 1) Warrant Case Trial 2) Summary trial and 3) Summons trial which can take place when the case reaches for hearing before the court may it be case instituted on police report u/s 154 or a case initiated on a complainant filed u/s 200 of CrPC.

Trial in Warrant cases

As defined in section 2(x) of the code warrant cases are the cases “relating to an offence punishable with death, imprisonment for life or imprisonment for a term exceeding two years.”

A trial in warrant cases is either tried by the magistrate’s court or by the session’s court on registration of FIR u/s 154 before the police or by a complaint before the magistrate court. If the magistrate is of the view that the case is a warrant case and can be tried by it than he proceeds with the trial of the case, however, if he thinks that the warrant case can be exclusively tried only by the session court than he commits the case to the session’s court after complying with all the necessary elements provided in and as per section 207 of the code.

Warrant Case If Tried By Magistrate’s Court

Instituted on the police report

After the police report[3] is submitted before the magistrate than the magistrate court is required to furnish all the necessary documents to the accused according to section 207 of CrPC. After that, the magistrate court commits the case as per section 209 of the code to the session’s court if the offence concerned is to be exclusively tried by the session’s court. However, if no committal is required, then the magistrate’s court proceeds with the matter. Before the framing of charges if magistrate upon considering the police report, examining the accused and hearing the prosecution is of the view that no charge made out against the accused than he can discharge the accused as per section 239 of the code. In contradiction, if upon considering the report, the magistrate thinks that presumably, grounds are present to prove that the accused has committed offence than the court proceeds with framing charges against the accused.[4]If after framing of charges the accused pleads guilty than the magistrate may in his discretion convict the accused at that point only as provided under section 241 of the code. However, if the accused doesn’t plead guilty than court calls for the recording of the evidence of the prosecution[5], that’s the point from where the trial starts. Unlike the session’s court, no power to acquit the accused is with the magistrate’s court after the recording of evidence of the prosecution. After the recording of prosecution evidence, the evidence for defence is recorded by the court as provided in section 243.

After that, the trial concludes, and the court pronounces its judgment of acquittal or conviction of accused.[6]

Case instituted otherwise than police report or complaint case

In a complaint case, then the trial commences after the issue of the process in the case.[7]

The very first step in the trial of the complaint case is to record the evidence of the prosecution.[8] If upon considering the prosecution’s evidence magistrate of the view that there are no sufficient grounds to establish that the offence is committed by accused than he discharges the accused. However, if upon recording the prosecution’s evidence, the magistrate is of the view that the accused has committed the offence than he proceeds with the framing of charges against the accused[9]. The charges framed are read to the accused, and if he pleads guilty to the same, the magistrate may in his discretion convict him thereon.[10] If the accused doesn’t plead guilty and if he wants to cross-examine the prosecution witness than the prosecution witness named by accused are recalled for cross-examination by the accused.[11] After that, the magistrate proceeds with the recording of the evidence for defence[12] and after considering the evidence of defence as well as of prosecution convict or acquit the accused as mentioned in section 248 of the code.

Warrant Case If Tried By Sessions Court

Once the case is committed to the session’s court as per section 209 of CrPC, the first step taken by the Sessions Court is to frame the charges against the accused.[13]

Section 229 of the code provides that if the accused pleads guilty for the charges framed against him than the court may in his discretion convict the accused at that point only. However, if it happens otherwise and accused doesn’t plead guilty, then the court proceeds with the trial and fixes the date for presentation of prosecution’s evidence before the court.[14]

Just like magistrate’s court, the very first step in session court after framing the charges is the recording of the prosecution evidence.[15] In the case, the court after the recording of the prosecution evidence thinks that no offence is committed by the accused than he can acquit the accused after examining him and hearing the prosecution and defence on the point.[16]

Section 233 of the code provides that if the accused is not acquitted as per section 232 of the code than the accused is called upon to render his defence in the case. Then the prosecution sums up his pleadings and the defence for the accused again given a chance to reply it.

Finally, after hearing the arguments and seeing the evidence, the court passes a judgement of acquittal or conviction of the accused and render his decision as per section 235 of CrPC.

Trial of Summons cases

The summons cases are defined in section 2(w) of the code merely as the case relating to an offence which is not a warrant case. This provides the least clarity as to the nature and meaning of the summons cases. However, in simpler terms, it can be deduced that the summons case is related to the offence not having punishment for more than two years. The summons provides for efficient and quick delivery of judgement in the cases where punishment is not too severe. In summons case, no formal charges are framed against the accused; instead, he is provided with a ‘notice’ stating the substance of accusation against him.

As provided in section 251 of the code, the magistrate on the appearance of the accused states him the particulars of the accusations made against him and asks him whether he pleads guilty of the same and if the accused pleads the magistrate can in his discretion convict him[17].

If the accused does not pleads guilty then as per section 254 of CrPC magistrate proceeds and record the evidence of the prosecution and accused. Finally, the magistrate, after taking the evidence, shall document whether the accused is guilty or not.[18]