Criminal Trial in Indian Law

Updated: Jun 1

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Prof.(Dr.) Priya Sepaha

Director, Law Colloquy,

Author, Trainer, blogger, Youtuber

Criminal law is the body of law that relates to crime. In India Criminal Justice system includes three Acts: -

1. The Indian Penal Code, 1860 (IPC) is a substantial law. It is a primary penal law of India, which applies to all offences. It is a comprehensive code intended to cover all substantive aspects of criminal law.

2. The criminal procedure in India is governed by the Criminal Procedure Code, 1973 (CrPC). The procedure includes the manner for collection of evidence, the examination of witnesses, interrogation of accused, arrests, safeguards and procedure to be adopted by Police and Courts, bail, the process of a criminal trial, a method of conviction, and the rights of the accused of a fair trial by principles of natural justice.

3. Indian Evidence Act, 1872 (IEA) is a comprehensive, treaty on the law of “evidence”, which can be used in the trial, the manner of production of the evidence in a trial, and the evidentiary value which can be attached to such evidence.

Stages of Criminal Trial in India

(i) First Information Report (F.I.R)

- It is a statement of the informant as recorded under section 154 of CrPC, with the objective to set the criminal law in motion.

- FIR means the information, by whomsoever, gave, to the officer in charge of a police station in relation to the commission of a cognizable offence and which is first in point of time and on the strength of which the investigation into that offence is commenced.

- It is not substantive evidence i.e. not the evidence of the facts which it mentions. Its importance as conveying the earliest information regarding the occurrence cannot be doubted. It can be used to corroborate the informant under section 157 of the Indian Evidence Act, 1872, or to contradict him under section 145 of the act if the informant is called as a witness at the time of trial[1].

ii) Commencement of investigation:

- It includes all the efforts and process of a police officer for the collection of evidence; Proceeding to the spot; ascertaining facts and circumstances; discovery and arrest of the suspected offender; a collection of evidence relating to the commission of an offence, which may consist of the examination of various persons including the accused and taking of their statements in writing and the search of places or seizure of things considered necessary for their investigation and to be produced at the trial; formation of opinion as to whether on the basis of the material collected there is a case to place the accused before a magistrate for trial and if so, taking the necessary steps for the charge-sheet.

- The investigation ends in a police report to the magistrate.

- It leads an investigating officer to reach a conclusion whether a charge-sheet has to be filed or a closure report has to be filed.

iii) Framing of charges: If a person is not discharged, the trial begins by framing a charge as a specific accusation against the accused which is read and explaining it to him[2].

iv) Conviction on plea of guilty: After framing of charges the judge proceeds to take the ‘plea of guilt’ which is an opportunity to the accused to acknowledge that he pleads guilty and does not wish to contest the case. The judge's responsibility is-

a. to ensure that the plea of guilt is free and voluntary,

b. He has to ensure that if there had been no pleading of guilt, was the prosecution version if unrebutted would have led to a conviction. If both the requirements are met then the judge can record and accept a plea of guilt and convict the accused after listening to him on sentence.

v) Recording of the prosecution Evidence:

Examination of a prosecution witness by the police prosecutor, marking of exhibits and cross-examination by defence counsel.

vi) Statement of the Accused:

Section 313 of the CrPC empowers the court to give an opportunity of being heard to an accused and explain the facts and circumstances appearing in the evidence against him. Under this section, an accused shall not be administered an oath and the accused may refuse to answer the questions so asked. The answers given by the accused may be taken into consideration in such inquiry or trial and put in evidence for or against him[3].

vii) Defence Evidence:

In cases of accused not being acquitted by the court, the defence is given an opportunity to present any defence evidence in support of the accused. The defence can produce both oral and documentary evidence. In India, since the burden of proof is on the prosecution the defence, in general, is not required to give any defence evidence.

viii) Final arguments on both sides:

Once the public prosecutor and the defence counsel present their arguments, the court generally reserve its judgment.

ix) Judgment:

Judgment is the final reasoned decision of the court as to the guilt or innocence of the accused. After application of judicial mind, the judge delivers a final judgment holding an accused guilty of an offence or acquitting him of the particular offence. When the person is convicted, then both sides are invited to give arguments on the punishment which is to be awarded. This is usually done when the person is convicted of an offence whose punishment is life imprisonment or capital punishment.

Types of Trial

According to the provisions of CrPC, there are three types of a criminal trial:-

1. Trial of Warrant cases

i. It is related to offences punishable with death, imprisonment for life or imprisonment for a term exceeding two years[4].

ii. Employed in most offences such as theft, Rape, Murder, Kidnapping, cheating etc. except in cases of defamation.

iii. Charges must be mentioned in a warrant case. Personal appearance of the accused is mandatory.

iv. A warrant case cannot be converted into a summons case.

v. The accused can examine and cross-examine the witnesses more than once.

vi. The trial procedure in respect of these offences is contained in sections 238-250 of CrPC. vii. The CrPC provides for two types of procedure for the trial of warrant cases by a Magistrate, viz.:

- those instituted upon a police report where a lot of records made during investigations by the police is made available to the court and to the accused person and

- those instituted upon complaint i.e. otherwise than on police report where such record cannot be available.

2. Trial of Summons cases:

i. These cases are tried with much less formality than warrant cases, the manner of their trial is less elaborated and the method of preparing the record (of evidence) is less formal.

ii. These cases are related to an offence punishable with imprisonment not exceeding 2 years.

iii. If a magistrate, after examining the case, does not find it fit to be called as a summons case, he may convert it into a warrant case.

iv. The trial procedure prescribed for these cases is contained in sections 251-259 of CrPC. In respect to these cases, there is no need to frame a charge.

v. The session court gives the substance of the accusation (notice) to the accused when the person appears in pursuance to the summons.

vi. The court has the power to convert a summons case into a warrant case if the magistrate thinks that it is in the interest of justice.

3. Summary Trial:

i. An abridged form of regular trial and is resorted to in order to save time in trying petty cases.

ii. The procedure followed in the summary trial is similar to summons-case.

Section 260(2) of the code lists certain offences which may be tried summarily by any Chief Judicial Magistrate, any Metropolitan Magistrate or any Judicial Magistrate First Class. A First-class Magistrate must first be authorized by the respective High court to that effect before he may try cases summarily under this section.

Offences triable in a summary way:

- Offences not punishable with death, life imprisonment, or imprisonment for a term exceeding 2 years.

- Theft under section 379, 380, and 381 of the IPC provided that the value of the stolen property is below Rs 2000.

- Receiving or retaining stolen property under section 411 of the IPC where the value of the stolen property is below Rs 2000.

- Assisting in the concealment or disposal of stolen property, under section 414 of the IPC, the value of the stolen property is below Rs 2000.

- Lurking house-trespass (section 454 of the IPC) and house-breaking(section 456 of the IPC) by night.

- Abetment of any of the above-mentioned offences. Attempt to commit any of the above-mentioned offences.

- Offences with respect to which complaints may be made under section 20 of the Cattle Trespass Act, 1871.

iii) Apart from the above, a Second-Class Magistrate may, if so, empowered by the High court, summarily try an offence punishable with fine or with imprisonment not exceeding 6 months or the abetment or attempt to commit such an offence.

iv) A summary trial tried by a magistrate without being empowered to do so is void.

v.) The maximum sentence that may be awarded by way of a summary trial is three months with or without fine.


[1] Hasib v. State of Bihar (1972) 4 SCC 773.

[2] Ravi Kumar v. State of Punjab (2005) 9 SCC 315.

[3]The Laws of India- A Common Man’s guide,available at:http://bharatchugh.wordpress.com, visited on 14/04/2016.

[4] The Process of Criminal Trial in India, available at:http://www.article2.org/mainfile.php, visited on 12/04/2016.

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