SC: Charges can be altered / added even after reserving of the judgement

The Hon’ble Supreme Court, on 21st January 2020, in the matter of Dr Nallapareddy Sridhar Reddy v. The State of Andhra Pradesh & Ors pronounced that the alteration or addition of a charge may be done even after the completion of evidence, arguments and reserving of the judgment.

The Hon’ble Supreme Court observed that:

Section 216 of Cr.P.C. provides the court an exclusive and wide-ranging power to change or alter any charge. The use of the words “at any time before judgment is pronounced” in Sub-Section (1) empowers the court to exercise its powers of altering or adding charges even after the completion of evidence, arguments and reserving of the judgment. (Para 20)

The alteration or addition of a charge may be done if in the opinion of the court there was an omission in the framing of charge or if upon prima facie examination of the material brought on record, it leads the court to form a presumptive opinion as to the existence of the factual ingredients constituting the alleged offence. (Para 20)

The test to be adopted by the court while deciding upon an addition or alteration of a charge is that the material brought on record needs to have a direct link or nexus with the ingredients of the alleged offence. Addition of a charge merely commences the trial for the additional charges, whereupon, based on the evidence, it is to be determined whether the accused may be convicted for the additional charges. (Para 20)

The court must exercise its powers under Section 216 judiciously and ensure that no prejudice is caused to the accused and that he is allowed to have a fair trial. The only constraint on the court’s power is the prejudice likely to be caused to the accused by the addition or alteration of charges. Sub-Section (4) accordingly prescribes the approach to be adopted by the courts where prejudice may be caused. (Para 20)

The veracity of the depositions made by the witnesses is a question of trial and need not be determined at the time of framing of charge. Appreciation of evidence on merit is to be done by the court only after the charges have been framed and the trial has commenced. However, for the purpose of framing of charge the court needs to prima facie determine that there exists sufficient material for the commencement of trial. (Para 24)

Copy of judgement: Judgement_21-Jan-2020

-Adv. Tushar Kaushik

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