Trial of Warrant Cases by Magistrates
Author : Alka Siwach
Criminal cases may be divided into two types namely, Summons Case and Warrant Case.
Warrant cases are those which consist of offences punishable with death penalty, imprisonment for life or imprisonment for a duration exceeding two years. A trial in a warrant case begins by either filing a First Information Report (Section 173, CrPC) in a Police Station or filing it directly before the Magistrate.
Summons cases are those which the offence is a minor one for which a police officer may without arrest notify a person to appear in court at a fixed time and place.
The nature of the case doesn’t change with the issue of summons or warrants in that case. For example, in the case of Padam Nath V. Ahmad Dobi, 1969, it was observed that a warrant issued in a summons case doesn’t convert it into a warrant case.
Chapter 19 (CrPC) – Trial of Warrant Cases by Magistrates:
Section 238 – Compliance with Section 207
Section 239 – When accused shall be discharged
Section 240 – Framing of charge
Section 241 – Conviction on plea of guilty
Section 242 – Evidence for prosecution
Section 243 – Evidence for defence
Section 244 – Evidence for prosecution
Section 245 – When accused shall be discharged
Section 246 – Procedure where accused is not discharged
Section 247 – Evidence for defence
Section 248 – Acquittal or conviction
Section 249 – Absence of complainant
Section 250 – Compensation for accusation without reasonable cause
The trial of warrant cases is of two types:
- On Police Report (Section 238 to 243) –
Section 173 of CrPC mentions a defines police report as a report forwarded by a police officer to the Magistrate. A person(informant) can lodge an FIR in the police station against a cognizable offence.
Section 173(2)(i) mentions that as soon as the police completes its investigation and finds sufficient evidence against the accused person(s), it must forward a report to the Magistrate and on the basis of the report, trial commences.
2. Other than Police Report (Section 244 to 247) –
When an offence is non-cognizable or if the police refuse to lodge an FIR or for any other reason, FIR can’t be filed, the complaint can be filed directly before the Magistrate. These cases are established on a complaint and are hence called, cases instituted otherwise than on police report.
The procedure for trial of both the warrant cases are distinct and different from each other.
Cases instituted on a Police Report (Section 238 to 243):
The steps in warrant cases instituted on police report are-
- Supply of copy of police report to accused in compliance with Section 207. (Section 238)
- Discharge of accused on baseless charges. (Section 239)
It was observed in the case of Jagdish Chandra v. S.K. Karam (1919), that if accused has been discharged on the ground that the matter was of civil nature then it is not illegal, until it is proved that there is miscarriage of justice.
In Kanta Bhadra Shah v. State of W.B. (2000), it was seen that whenever in any case filed on a police report, Magistrate feels that there is no prima facie case against accused and he discharges him, the Magistrate has to write the reasons too for the discharge. However, if he is framing charges against the accused and initiating the trial, then there is no need of writing down the reasons for the same.
3. Framing of charges. (Section 240)
4. Conviction on a guilty plea. (Section 241)
If the accused pleads guilty, the Magistrate shall record the plea and may, in his discretion, convict him thereupon.
5. Evidence for the prosecution. (Section 242)
After the framing of charges, if accused refused to plead or not plead, or claim to be tried or Magistrate doesn’t convict him, the Magistrate shall fix a date for the examination of witness.
The burden of proving the accused guilty, including all elements of the alleged offences beyond all reasonable doubt, is on the prosecution. This process of proving guilty by the witnesses is called examination in chief.
6. Evidence for defence. (Section 243)
Case instituted otherwise than on Police Report (Section 244 to 247):
1. As there is no prior investigation conducted by the police, the Magistrate directly starts with evidence for prosecution (Section 244) as there’s no requirement to check if the documents have been provided to the accused. Hence, the procedure under Section 238 and 239 need not be followed.
In Gopal Krishna v. State of Kerala (2002), it was observed that if the case is instituted otherwise on a police report, there is no material available with the Magistrate to frame charges; hence, first of all the prosecution witnesses’ examination is conducted so that there is sufficient material available with the Magistrate to frame charges against the accused. The trial can be started only after taking evidence and not before that.
2. Section 245(1) – Magistrate will discharge the accused if no case against him has been made after going through the evidences under Section 244 of CrPC.
Section 245(2) – Magistrate has power to discharge the accused at any previous stage of the case, i.e., even before Section 244, after complaint, during issue process etc. – hence, this works as an exception to Section 245(1).
3. Section 246(1) and 246(2) are same as Section 240, whereas Section 246(3) follows the same procedure as in Section 241.
Section 246(4) – Magistrate will ask accused if he wants to cross -examine any prosecution witness →as this is a matter of rights of the accused, and here accused can’t be denied his right to cross -examine any witness which has already been examined by the prosecution.
Section 246(5) & (6) – Right to cross -examine and re-examine any additional witness bot by accused and by both prosecution and accused.
4. Section 247 – follows the same procedure as given under Section 243.
Section 248-250 applicable in both types of Warrant Cases:
1. Section 248(1) – After trial, if the accused is found not guilty, an order of acquittal shall be recorded by the Magistrate.
Section 248(2) – If found guilty, the Magistrate will pass sentence accordingly, if he doesn’t proceed in accordance with the provisions of Section 325 (where Magistrate can’t pass sufficient sentence) or Section 360 (probation or admonition of offender).
Section 248 (3) – If accused previously convicted, then sentence him accordingly. However, if accused doesn’t accept his previous conviction, then, Magistrate will listen to that charge in detail and then he will decide. Provided, no such hearing on the previous charge will be done until and unless the accused has been convicted. If no conviction or before conviction, no such hearing will take place.
2. Section 249 – If complaint is absent on the hearing date, complainant is absent, the Magistrate may in his discretion discharge the accused, if the offence is compoundable, non-cognizable, proceedings have been instituted on the complaint and the charge hasn’t been framed. All these elements are necessary.
After the framing of charges, the Magistrate can’t discharge the accused/defendant because of non- appearance by the complainant.
3. Section 250 – Discusses the procedure related to cases where a case is instituted on complaint to a Magistrate or police officer and the Magistrate concludes that there’s no ground against the accused person.
The accused shall be discharged immediately. The complainant shall be summoned to justify his complaint and elucidate why he shouldn’t pay compensation to the person against whom the complaint was filed.
The Magistrate shall then order to pay a specific amount as compensation not prodigious the amount of fine to the accused if he is satisfied that the reasons for filing the complaint are baseless and lacks ground.
Default on payment of compensation will result in imprisonment for maximum 30 days.
As observed in the case of Valli Mitha V. Unknown, 1919, if there is more than one accused person, the Magistrate shall order the complainant to pay compensation to all of them.
Provisions of this section apply to both summon and warrant cases.
The Court decides if there’s a need to go through the charges against the accusations of the complainant and the proceedings are initiated under the Magistrate’s discretion. Moreover, we deliberated that the evidence and witnesses presented by both the prosecution and defence are essential in determining the facts of the case and for declaring the judgement by the Magistrate.
If the accused is acquitted of the charges, the case is dismissed however, the prosecution can file an appeal to challenge the decision of the court. However, if the accused is convicted, either sides are allowed to present their arguments as to the extent of punishment which shall be inflicted on the convict. But the ultimate decision as to the punishment lies with the Magistrate.