SC: Evaluating evidence & its merits not necessary for issuing processes

Today, i.e. on 5th February 2019, in the matter of The State of Gujrat v. Afroz Mohammed Hassanfatta, the Hon’ble Supreme Court pronounced that when the prosecution relies upon the materials, strict standard of proof is not to be applied at the stage of issuance of summons nor to examine the probable defence which the accused may take. All that the court is required to do is to satisfy itself as to whether there are sufficient grounds for proceeding.

The Hon’ble Supreme Court observed that:

It is well-settled that at the stage of issuing process, the Magistrate is mainly concerned with the allegations made in the complaint or the evidence led in support of the same and the Magistrate is only to be satisfied that there are sufficient grounds for proceeding against the accused. It is fairly well-settled that when issuing summons, the Magistrate need not explicitly state the reasons for his satisfaction that there are sufficient grounds for proceeding against the accused. (Para 15)

As per definition under Section 2(d) Cr.P.C., complaint does not include a police report. (Para 16)

As per the definition under Section 2(d) Cr.P.C., ‘complaint’ does not include a police report. In cases related to issuance of process taking cognizance of offences based on the complaint, the order of the Magistrate summoning the accused must reflect that he has applied his mind to the facts of the case and the law applicable thereto. Those cases do not relate to taking of cognizance upon a police report under Section 190(1)(b) Cr.P.C. Those cases relate to taking cognizance of offences based on the complaint. (This inference has been drawn on the basis of Para 17)

Section 190(1)(a) Cr.P.C. provides for cognizance of complaint. Section 190(1)(b) Cr.P.C. deals with taking cognizance of any offence on the basis of police report under Section 173(2) Cr.P.C. The procedure for taking cognizance upon complaint has been provided under Chapter XV – Complaints to Magistrates under Sections 200 to 203 Cr.P.C. A complaint filed before the Magistrate may be dismissed under Section 203 Cr.P.C. if the Magistrate is of the opinion that there is no sufficient ground for proceeding and in every such case, he shall briefly record his reasons for so doing. If a complaint is not dismissed under Section 203 Cr.P.C., the Magistrate issues process under Section 204 Cr.P.C. Section 204 Cr.P.C. is in a separate chapter i.e. Chapter XVI – Commencement of Proceedings before Magistrates. A combined reading of Section 203 and Section 204 Cr.P.C. shows that for dismissal of a complaint, reasons should be recorded. The procedure for trial of warrant cases is provided in Chapter XIX – Trial of Warrant Cases by the Magistrates. Chapter XIX deals with two types of cases – A – Cases instituted on a police report and B – Cases instituted otherwise than on police report. In the present case, cognizance has been taken on the basis of police report. (Para 18)

In a case instituted on a police report, in warrant cases, under Section 239 Cr.P.C., upon considering the police report and the documents filed along with it under Section 173 Cr.P.C., the Magistrate after affording opportunity of hearing to both the accused and the prosecution, shall discharge the accused, if the Magistrate considers the charge against the accused to be groundless and record his reasons for so doing. Then comes Chapter XIX-C – Conclusion of trial – the Magistrate to rendering final judgment under Section 248 Cr.P.C. considering the various provisions and pointing out three stages of the case. Observing that there is no requirement of recording reasons for issuance of process under Section 204 Cr.P.C. (Para 19)

In summoning the accused, it is not necessary for the Magistrate to examine the merits and demerits of the case and whether the materials collected is adequate for supporting the conviction. The court is not required to evaluate the evidence and its merits. The standard to be adopted for summoning the accused under Section 204 Cr.P.C. is not the same at the time of framing the charge. For issuance of summons under Section 204 Cr.P.C., the expression used is “there is sufficient ground for proceeding…..”; whereas for framing the charges, the expression used in Sections 240 and 246 IPC is “there is ground for presuming that the accused has committed an offence…..”. At the stage of taking cognizance of the offence based upon a police report and for issuance of summons under Section 204 Cr.P.C., detailed enquiry regarding the merits and demerits of the case is not required. The fact that after investigation of the case, the police has filed charge sheet along with the materials thereon may be considered as sufficient ground for proceeding for issuance of summons under Section 204 Cr.P.C. (Para 21)

In so far as taking cognizance based on the police report, the Magistrate has the advantage of the charge sheet, statement of witnesses and other evidence collected by the police during the investigation. Investigating Officer/SHO collects the necessary evidence during the investigation conducted in compliance with the provisions of the Criminal Procedure Code and in accordance with the rules of investigation. Evidence and materials so collected are sifted at the level of the Investigating Officer and thereafter, charge sheet was filed. In appropriate cases, opinion of the Public Prosecutor is also obtained before filing the charge sheet. The court thus has the advantage of the police report along with the materials placed before it by the police. Under Section 190 (1)(b) Cr.P.C., where the Magistrate has taken cognizance of an offence upon a police report and the Magistrate is satisfied that there is sufficient ground for proceeding, the Magistrate directs issuance of process. In case of taking cognizance of an offence based upon the police report, the Magistrate is not required to record reasons for issuing the process. In cases instituted on a police report, the Magistrate is only required to pass an order issuing summons to the accused. Such an order of issuing summons to the accused is based upon subject to satisfaction of the Magistrate considering the police report and other documents and satisfying himself that there is sufficient ground for proceeding against the accused. In a case based upon the police report, at the stage of issuing the summons to the accused, the Magistrate is not required to record any reason. In case, if the charge sheet is barred by law or where there is lack of jurisdiction or when the charge sheet is rejected or not taken on file, then the Magistrate is required to record his reasons for rejection of the charge sheet and for not taking on file. (Para 22)

Aggrieved party has the right to challenge the order of Magistrate directing issuance of summons. (Para 25)

Before summoning the accused, the facts stated will have to be accepted as they appear on the very face of it (Para 35)

(Para 37) For issuance of process against the accused, it has to be seen only whether there is sufficient ground for proceeding against the accused. At the stage of issuance of process, the Court is not required to weigh the evidentiary value of the materials on record. The Court must apply its mind to the allegations in the charge sheet and the evidence produced and satisfy itself that there is sufficient ground to proceed against the accused. The Court is not to examine the merits and demerits of the case and not to determine the adequacy of the evidence for holding the accused guilty. The Court is also not required to embark upon the possible defences. Likewise, ‘possible defences’ need not be taken into consideration at the time of issuing process unless there is an ex-facie defence such as a legal bar or if in law the accused is not liable [Nupur Talwar v. Central Bureau of Investigation and another (2012) 11 SCC 465]]

At the stage of issue of process, the court is not required to go into the merits of the evidence collected and examine whether they are incriminating the accused or not.  (Para 48)

While hearing revision under Section 397 Cr.P.C., the High Court does not sit as an appellate court and will not reappreciate the evidence unless the judgment of the lower court suffers from perversity. Based on the charge sheet and the materials produced thereon when the Magistrate satisfied that there are sufficient grounds for proceeding, the learned Single Judge was not justified in examining the merits and demerits of the case and substitute its own view. When the satisfaction of the Magistrate was based on the charge sheet and the materials placed before him, the satisfaction cannot be said to be erroneous or perverse and the satisfaction ought not to have been interfered with. (Para 49)

When the prosecution relies upon the materials, strict standard of proof is not to be applied at the stage of issuance of summons nor to examine the probable defence which the accused may take. All that the court is required to do is to satisfy itself as to whether there are sufficient grounds for proceeding. (Para 51)

Copy of judgement:Judgement 05-Feb-2019

-Tushar Kaushik

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