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Sunday, August 28, 2011

Framing of Charge : Principles and Law

Justice P. Sathasivam
Supreme Court of India
The Supreme Court in Sajjan Kumar Vs. Central Bureau of Investigation has examined the legal provisions and authorities on framing of charge in criminal prosecutions. While reiterating the legal principles evolved by the courts over the years, the Hon'ble Supreme Court held as under;

14. In Prafulla Kumar Samal (supra), the scope of Section 227 of the Cr.P.C. was considered. After adverting to various decisions, this 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." 
15. In Dilawar Balu Kurane (supra), the principles enunciated in Prafulla Kumar Samal (supra) have been reiterated and it was held: 
"12. Now the next question is whether a prima facie case has been made out against the appellant. In exercising powers under Section 227 of the Code of Criminal Procedure, the settled position of law is that the Judge while considering the question of framing the charges under the said section 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; 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; by and large 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 justified to discharge the accused, and in exercising jurisdiction under Section 227 of the Code of Criminal Procedure, the Judge 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 but should not make a roving enquiry into the pros and cons of the matter and weigh the evidence as if he was conducting a trial (see Union of India v. Prafulla Kumar Samal). 
14. We have perused the records and we agree with the above views expressed by the High Court. We find that in the alleged trap no police agency was involved; the FIR was lodged after seven days; no incriminating articles were found in the possession of the accused and statements of witnesses were recorded by the police after ten months of the occurrence. We are, therefore, of the opinion that not to speak of grave suspicion against the accused, in fact the prosecution has not been able to throw any suspicion. We, therefore, hold that no prima facie case was made against the appellant." 
16. It is clear that at the initial stage, if there is a strong suspicion which leads the Court to think that there is ground for presuming that the accused has committed an offence, then it is not open to the court to say that there is no sufficient ground for proceeding against the accused. The presumption of the guilt of the accused which is to be drawn at the initial stage is only for the purpose of deciding prima facie whether the Court should proceed with the trial or not. If the evidence which the prosecution proposes to adduce prove the guilt of the accused even if fully accepted before it is challenged in cross-examination or rebutted by the defence evidence, if any, cannot show that the accused committed the offence, then there will be no sufficient ground for proceeding with the trial. A Magistrate enquiring into a case under Section 209 of the Cr.P.C. is not to act as a mere Post Office and has to come to a conclusion whether the case before him is fit for commitment of the accused to the Court of Session. He is entitled to sift and weigh the materials on record, but only for seeing whether there is sufficient evidence for commitment, and not whether there is sufficient evidence for conviction. If there is no prima facie evidence or the evidence is totally unworthy of credit, it is the duty of the Magistrate to discharge the accused, on the other hand, if there is some evidence on which the conviction may reasonably be based, he must commit the case. It is also clear that in exercising jurisdiction under Section 227 of Cr.P.C., the Magistrate should not make a roving enquiry into the pros and cons of the matter and weigh the evidence as if he was conducting a trial. 

17. Exercise of jurisdiction under Sections 227 & 228 of Cr.P.C. On consideration of the authorities about the scope of Section 227 and 228 of the Code, the following principles emerge:- 
(i) The Judge while considering the question of framing the charges under Section 227 of the Cr.P.C. 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. The test to determine prima facie case would depend upon the facts of each case. 
(ii) 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. 
(iii) The 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 etc. However, at this stage, there cannot be a roving enquiry into the pros and cons of the matter and weigh the evidence as if he was conducting a trial. 
(iv) 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. 
(v) 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. 
(vi) 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. 
(vii) If two views are possible and one of them gives rise to suspicion only, as distinguished from grave suspicion, the trial Judge will be empowered to discharge the accused and at this stage, he is not to see whether the trial will end in conviction or acquittal.

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