Legal Blog: Powers of Courts under Section 319 of the Criminal Procedure Code

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Thursday, August 11, 2011

Powers of Courts under Section 319 of the Criminal Procedure Code

Justice R.M. Lodha
Supreme Court of India
The Supreme Court in Sarojben Ashwinkumar Shah v. State of Gujarat & Anr. has examined the provisions of Section 319 of the Criminal Procedure Code relating to the power of the court to prosecute any person, not being an accused, if evidence seems to suggest that such person has committed an offense. The relevant extracts from the judgment are reproduced hereinbelow;

7. Section 319 of the Code reads as under : 
S. 319. Power to proceed against other persons appearing to be guilty of offence.--(1) Where, in the course of any inquiry into, or trial of, an offence, it appears from the evidence that any person not being the accused has committed any offence for which such person could be tried together with the accused, the court may proceed against such person for the offence which he appears to have committed.
(2) Where such person is not attending the court, he may be arrested or summoned, as the circumstances of' the case may require, for the purpose aforesaid. 
(3) Any person attending the court although not under arrest or upon a summons, may be detained by such court for the purpose of the inquiry into, or trial of, the offence which he appears to have committed.
(4) Where the court proceeds against any person under sub-section (1), then-
(a) The proceedings in respect of such person shall be commenced afresh, and witnesses re-heard: (b) Subject to the provisions of clause (a), the case may proceed as if such person had been an accused person when the court took cognizance of the offence upon which the inquiry or trial was commenced.
8. The ambit and scope of the power of the Court under Section 319 of the Code has come up for consideration before this Court on more than one occasion.

9. In Joginder Singh and Another v. State of Punjab and Another, this Court stated that the power conferred under Section 319(1) of the Code is applicable to all courts including a Sessions Court and the Court has power to add any person, not being the accused before it, against whom there appears during trial sufficient evidence indicating his involvement in the offence, as an accused and direct him to be tried along with the other accused.

10. In the case of Municipal Corporation of Delhi v. Ram Kishan Rohtagi and Others, this Court (at page 8) held as under : 
19. In these circumstances, therefore, if the prosecution can at any stage produce evidence which satisfies the court that the other accused or those who have not been arrayed as accused against whom proceedings have been quashed have also committed the offence the Court can take cognizance against them and try them along with the other accused. But, we would hasten to add that this is really an extraordinary power which is conferred on the court and should be used very sparingly and only if compelling reasons exist for taking cognizance against the other person against whom action has not been taken. More than this we would not like to say anything further at this stage. We leave the entire matter to the discretion of the court concerned so that it may act according to law. We would, however, make it plain that the mere fact that the proceedings have been quashed against respondents 2 to 5 will not prevent the court from exercising its discretion if it is fully satisfied that a case for taking cognizance against them has been made out on the additional evidence led before it.
11. In Michael Machado and Another v. Central Bureau of Investigation and Another, this Court on extensive consideration of the provision contained in Section 319 stated the (at pages 267-268) as follows :
11. The basic requirements for invoking the above section is that it should appear to the court from the evidence collected during trial or in the inquiry that some other person, who is not arraigned as an accused in that case, has committed an offence for which that person could be tried together with the accused already arraigned. It is not enough that the court entertained some doubt, from the evidence, about the involvement of another person in the offence. In other words, the court must have reasonable satisfaction from the evidence already collected regarding two aspects. First is that the other person has committed an offence. Second is that for such offence that other person could as well be tried along with the already arraigned accused.
12. But even then, what is conferred on the court is only a discretion as could be discerned from the words the court may proceed against such person. The discretionary power so conferred should be exercised only to achieve criminal justice. It is not that the court should turn against another person whenever it comes across evidence connecting that other person also with the offence. A judicial exercise is called for, keeping a conspectus of the case, including the stage at which the trial has proceeded already and the quantum of evidence collected till then, and also the amount of time which the court had spent for collecting such evidence. It must be remembered that there is no compelling duty on the court to proceed against other persons. 
14. The court while deciding whether to invoke the power under Section 319 of the Code, must address itself about the other constraints imposed by the first limb of sub-section (4), that proceedings in respect of newly-added persons shall be commenced afresh and the witnesses re-examined. The whole proceedings must be recommenced from the beginning of the trial, summon the witnesses once again and examine them and cross-examine them in order to reach the stage where it had reached earlier. If the witnesses already examined are quite large in number the court must seriously consider whether the objects sought to be achieved by such exercise are worth wasting the whole labour already undertaken. Unless the court is hopeful that there is a reasonable prospect of the case as against the newly-brought accused ending in being convicted of the offence concerned we would say that the court should refrain from adopting such a course of action.
12. In Shashikant Singh v. Tarkeshwar Singh and Another, this Court considered the scope of Section 319 of the Code at page 743 of the Report in the following words: 
9. The intention of the provision here is that where in the course of any enquiry into, or trial of, an offence, it appears to the court from the evidence that any person not being the accused has committed any offence, the court may proceed against him for the offence which he appears to have committed. At that stage, the court would consider that such a person could be tried together with the accused who is already before the court facing the trial. The safeguard provided in respect of such person is that, the proceedings right from the beginning have mandatorily to be commenced afresh and the witnesses reheard. In short, there has to be a de novo trial against him. The provision of de novo trial is mandatory. It vitally affects the rights of a person so brought before the court. It would not be sufficient to only tender the witnesses for the cross-examination of such a person. They have to be examined afresh. Fresh examination-in-chief and not only their presentation for the purpose of the cross-examination of the newly added accused is the mandate of Section 319(4). The words could be tried together with the accused in Section 319(1), appear to be only directory. Could be cannot under these circumstances be held to be must be. The provision cannot be interpreted to mean that since the trial in respect of a person who was before the court has concluded with the result that the newly added person cannot be tried together with the accused who was before the court when order under Section 319(1) was passed, the order would become ineffective and inoperative, nullifying the opinion earlier formed by the court on the basis of the evidence before it that the newly added person appears to have committed the offence resulting in an order for his being brought before the court.
13. In Krishnappa v. State of Karnataka, this Court reiterated what has been repeatedly stated that the power to summon an accused is an extraordinary power conferred on the court and should be used very sparingly and only if compelling reasons exist for taking cognizance against the other person against whom action has not been taken.

14. In Palanisamy Gounder and Another v. State represented by Inspector of Police, this Court referred to two earlier decisions of this Court in Michael Machado and Krishnappa and observed that power under Section 319 of the Code cannot be exercised so as to conduct a fishing inquiry.

15. In Guriya alias Tabassum Tauquir and Others v. State of Bihar and Another most of the above decisions were referred to and it was observed that the parameters for dealing with an application under Section 319 of the Code have been laid down in these cases.

16. The legal position that can be culled out from the material provisions of Section 319 of the Code and the decided cases of this Court is this :

(i) The Court can exercise the power conferred on it under Section 319 of the Code suo motu or on an application by someone.

(ii) The power conferred under Section 319(1) applies to all courts including the Sessions Court.

(iii) The phrase any person not being the accused occurring in Section 319 does not exclude from its operation an accused who has been released by the police under Section 169 of the Code and has been shown in Column 2 of the charge-sheet. In other words, the said expression covers any person who is not being tried already by the court and would include person or persons who have been dropped by the police during investigation but against whom evidence showing their involvement in the offence comes before the court.

(iv) The power to proceed against any person, not being the accused before the court, must be exercised only where there appears during inquiry or trial sufficient evidence indicating his involvement in the offence as an accused and not otherwise. The word `evidence' in Section 319 contemplates the evidence of witnesses given in court in the inquiry or trial. The court cannot add persons as accused on the basis of materials available in the charge- sheet or the case diary but must be based on the evidence adduced before it. In other words, the court must be satisfied that a case for addition of persons as accused, not being the accused before it, has been made out on the additional evidence let in before it.

(v) The power conferred upon the court is although discretionary but is not to be exercised in a routine manner. In a sense, it is an extraordinary power which should be used very sparingly and only if evidence has come on record which sufficiently establishes that the other person has committed an offence. A mere doubt about involvement of the other person on the basis of the evidence let in before the court is not enough. The Court must also be satisfied that circumstances justify and warrant that other person be tried with the already arraigned accused.

(vi) The court while exercising its power under Section 319 of the Code must keep in view full conspectus of the case including the stage at which the trial has proceeded already and the quantum of evidence collected till then. (vii) Regard must also be had by the court to the constraints imposed in Section 319 (4) that proceedings in respect of newly - added persons shall be commenced afresh from the beginning of the trial.

(viii) The court must, therefore, appropriately consider the above aspects and then exercise its judicial discretion.

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