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S.C. ruling on framing of charges by trial courts

By T. Padmanabha Rao

NEW DELHI, JAN. 5. There is no requirement for a Magistrate (Trial Court) under relevant provisions of the Criminal Procedure Code to record his reasons ``if he (Magistrate) forms an opinion that there is ground for presuming that the accused concerned had committed the offence which he is competent to try,'' the Supreme Court has ruled.

``In such a situation he is only required to frame a charge in writing against the accused,'' the Bench said.

A Magistrate, in a given case, under relevant provisions of the Cr.P.C., ``is obliged to record his reasons if he decides to discharge the accused,'' the Bench pointed out.

Mr. Justice K. T. Thomas, who delivered the judgment of the Bench, was disposing of a criminal appeal from two accused against an order of the Calcutta High Court - which set aside an order of a Metropolitan Magistrate framing a ``charge'' (for certain alleged offences under the Indian Penal Code) against the accused (appellants).

The High Court also directed the Magistrate to peruse the chargesheet along with other papers and satisfy himself again as to the existence of the prima facie case against the accused and record the fact of such perusal and his satisfaction if he decides to frame ``charges''.

In the present case as the Metropolitan Magistrate had chosen to frame the ``charge'', the High Court, when moved by the accused for quashment of the charge, could have re-examined the records to consider whether the charge framed was sustainable or not, the Bench observed and added that if the High Court decided to quash the charge it was open to the court to record the reasons thereof.

The present order of the High Court was ``one of setting aside the `charge' without stating any reason, but the direction to the Magistrate to consider the materials once again and then to frame a charge for the same offence (if the Magistrate reaches the opinion that there is ground for presuming the commission of offence) is simply to repeat what the Metropolitan Magistrate had done once at the first instance,'' the Bench pointed out.

To ask the Magistrate ``to do the same thing again is adding unnecessary extra work on the trial court,'' the Bench, which included Mr. Justice D. P. Mohapatra, said.

As the State had not challenged the impugned order of the High Court, the Bench was ``not in a position to set aside the impugned order''.

The Bench, however, left it to the Magistrate to exercise his functions under the relevant provision of the CrPC (Sections 239 or 240) as he deemed fit in the light of the observations made in this judgment.

(Section 239 deals with the power of the Magistrate to `discharge' an accused in a given case while Section 240 relates to the Magistrate's power to ``frame a charge'' etc).

If there was no legal requirement that the trial court write an order showing the reasons for framing a charge, why should the trial courts be further burdened with such an extra work, the Bench wondered and added that ``the time has been reached to adopt all possible measures to expedite the court procedures and to chalk out measures to avert all roadblocks causing avoidable delays''.

``If a Magistrate is to write detailed orders at different stages merely because the counsel would address arguments at all stages, the snail paced progress of proceedings in trial courts would further be slowed down,'' the Bench said.

``It is quite unnecessary to write detailed orders at interlocutory stages, such as issuing orders, remanding the accused to custody, framing of charges, passing over to next stages in the trial,'' the Bench observed.

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