By Adv. Nikita Vaigankar
Summon is a document that is issued by the Court of law and it acts as a command to appear before the court to answer the charges laid against the person to whom it is supposed to be served. It is a kind of signal to the person that legal proceedings or a lawsuit have been initiated against that person. Every summons contains a date on which a person has to appear before the court or file his/her reply before the said date or as per the directions mentioned in the summons.
The court of law treats criminal cases from two perspectives, which can be called Summons case and/or Warrant cases. This classification is based on the seriousness of the crime.
In order to understand it better, we can move on to see the definition as laid down under the code. Section 2(w) of CrPc states that Summons cases are those which are related to an offense and are not warrant cases hence, to understand this negatively molded definition and to know what exactly are summons cases, we would have to find out what are warrant cases so that we can filter the requirements to understand the summons cases.
Section 2 (x) of CrPc explains a warrant case and it states that a warrant case is the one in which offense committed is punishable with death, imprisonment for life or imprisonment for a term exceeding two years. So, by looking at the quantum of punishment in warrant cases, it is certain that these are the offenses that are more serious in nature and therefore, we can conclude that the ‘Summon case’ is the one in which an offense is punishable with the imprisonment of not more than two years. This is how judges differentiate and determine a Summons case and can issue process and send the summons for the attendance of the accused under section 204(1)(a) of CrPc in order to proceed with the trial of the case.
Procedure of Trial in Summons Cases
Soon after the summon is issued to the accused person, the trial starts and the procedure of the trial conduct has been stated elaborately under sections 251 to 259 of CrPc.
Section 251 of CrPc– This section gives a privilege to the accused to get informed about the substance of the accusation which means the details of the particulars of the offense are explained to the accused and most importantly, the accused is given an opportunity to plead guilty or to make any statement in his/her defense. The section does not make it mandatory to frame formal charges which is the striking difference compared to other types of cases and their trials.
In case the substance of the accusation is not conveyed to the accused it will not amount to vitiating the proceedings rather an accused would have a remedy under section 465 of CrPc wherein any finding or sentence of the court can be reversible if there was an omission, mistake or error during any stage of criminal trial or proceedings as a whole.
Section 252 of CrPc– This section merely speaks about the accused pleading guilty for his/her offense, i.e. when the accused accepts all the charges against him/her and admits the commission of the crime before the magistrate. Though the court is given the discretion to decide whether to convict the accused or not it is mandatory for the court to record the plea of the accused in the exact words that the accused pleaded in order to avoid any mistakes or misapprehension.
If there is more than one accused, the plea of each of them should be separately recorded and be read over to them. It was held in the case of Chhotu Bhagirath vs State of Gujrat that the provisions of section 252 of CrPc are mandatory in nature. These provisions are not of mere empty formality but it’s a matter of substance intended to secure and serve proper administration of justice. Violation of any of these provisions would vitiate the trial and may render the conviction invalid.
Section 253 of CrPc– Section 253 runs in a similar lane to the previous section but the only difference is that this section speaks about the cases wherein conviction is held on the plea of guilty in petty cases. In these cases, after receiving the summons, the accused has the option of not appearing before the magistrate to plead guilty. The notable thing here is that this section would apply only if the summons is sent under section 206 of CrPc, wherein summons are sent by the Court to a person who has been accused of petty offenses, and here fine shall not exceed an amount of one hundred rupees as specified by the proviso under Section 206.
If the summons is sent under section 206 of CrPc then the accused instead of appearing and pleading guilty, may consider adopting the mode of transmitting his/her guilt through post vide a letter containing his/her plea along with the amount of fine as specified in the summons. The accused can also appoint a legal representative to appear on his/her behalf and can plead guilty through the said representative. The magistrate shall record the plea as nearly as possible in the words used by the pleader and may at their discretion convict the accused and fetch a fine. If the accused pleads guilty vide letter, then the amount of fine sent by the accused shall be adjusted towards the sentence.
Section 254 of CrPc– This section is a consequence of the accused not being convicted under sections 252 and 253 due to the reasons of not pleading guilty. Here in actual and practical terms, it can be said that the trial of the accused begins.
The magistrate shall proceed with the hearing of the prosecution under this section by giving an opportunity to the prosecution to present the case before the court by disclosing all the facts and circumstances related to the case to prove the sufferings of the victim and the guilt of the accused. The magistrate shall consider taking all the evidence produced by the prosecution as well as the accused in his/her defence. The accused shall be given a reasonable chance to defend himself/herself in order to give explanation of the circumstances levied by the prosecution against the accused. Moreover, this will serve one of the principles of natural justice as we call the doctrine as ‘audi alteram partem’.
Secondly, if the evidence of either of the party involves any statement or proof from any other third person who can be called as a witness of either side, the magistrate shall proceed to issue summons to that witness and call for the attendance of that particular witness to support the case. Before summoning any witness, the magistrate shall assure that the expenses incurred by the witness in attending the court proceeding, shall be deposited in the court.
Section 255 of CrPc– This section speaks about the procedure of acquitting the accused after hearing both sides and taking evidence under section 254 of CrPc. The magistrate is bound to record the order of acquittal if he/she finds the accused not guilty in a particular case. On the other hand, if the accused is found guilty and all the facts, as well as the evidence, are against the accused, the magistrate shall hold the accused liable and shall pass the sentence according to the law laid down under the act.
However, considering the nature of the offense committed, the character of the accused, and the circumstances before the accused, the magistrate upon his/her discretion may decide to punish or probate the accused accordingly.
The last part of the section also states that if it is proved through the facts, evidence, and circumstances of the case that the accused has committed an offense to be charged under a different section than mentioned in summon, the magistrate may convict the accused even for that offense as long as the said offense is triable under this chapter of the trial of Summons cases under Chapter 20 of CrPc.
Section 256 of CrPc– If the Summon is sent to the accused based on a complaint of the Complainant, then this section speaks about the situation wherein due to any reason whatsoever, the complainant is unable to be present before the Court. The section tells us that if the Complainant is absent on the day of the hearing, the magistrate may dismiss the case and acquit the accused. Provided, the magistrate shall have the sole discretion to decide whether to provide an opportunity to the complainant and adjourn the case to some other date or if the complainant is being represented by his/her attorney or legal representative and a valid exemption of the complainant is given by providing the reasons for the absence, the magistrate may proceed with the adjournment of the hearing. Therefore, this section gives absolute discretionary powers to the presiding judge.
Subsection two of this section says that the accused may be acquitted if the Complainant is absent due to his/her death and no legal heirs have been brought on record on behalf of the complainant. In the case of S. Rama Krishna vs S. Rami Reddy, the Supreme Court confirmed the decision of the Judicial Magistrate First Class and acquitted the Accused. In this case, the Complainant expired and his legal representative filed an application to bring his legal heirs on record and the accused objected thereto. No order was passed on that application and subsequently, no one appeared on behalf of the Complainant on several occasions, precisely for 14 dates of hearing. The magistrate acquitted the accused exercising the jurisdiction under section 256 of CrPc to which the Complainant challenged this order as an impugned judgment in the High Court. The High Court after taking into consideration all the facts, came to the finding that the accused were not interested in getting the matter prosecuted and also any matter shall be decided upon the merits rather than any technicalities. On further appeal, the Supreme court rather reversed the decision of the High court and held that a speedy trial is the fundamental right of the accused. The High court was misdirected in passing the impugned judgment and the decision passed by the judicial magistrate first class was based on the provisions of CrPc and it must be construed having regard to the constitutional scheme and legal principles in mind.
Section 257 of CrPc– This section speaks about the situation wherein the complainant decides to withdraw the complaint filed against the accused at any stage before the final judgment is passed.
However, one needs to understand that filing a complaint may be done by the complainant as per his/her wishes but withdrawing the same would not happen at the instance of the complainant rather it shall get approval from the magistrate except in the situation where the offense is compoundable, it will not require even the permission of the court and can be withdrawn.
So, if a complainant wishes at any stage to withdraw the complaint filed against an accused or where there are multiple accused then against any or all of them, he/she shall mention the reasons for withdrawal. These reasons shall have sufficient grounds to satisfy the magistrate for permitting such withdrawal. After permitting the withdrawal, the magistrate shall proceed to acquit that accused on whom the said withdrawn complaint was filed.
Section 258 of CrPc– This section gives wide discretionary powers to the Magistrate in summons cases which are other than those initiated based upon a complaint. The Magistrate presiding over the matter unless falling under the hierarchy to exercise the given power will have the power to stop the proceedings in between by giving reasons in writing without even pronouncing the judgment. However, if the statement of the primary witness has been recorded then the Magistrate can pass an order of acquittal and release the accused and such act shall amount to discharge.
This content is rather controversial in nature as these powers are not just discretionary but appear to be absolute in nature. However, if the summon case was initiated based on the complaint filed, then the magistrate cannot discharge the accused without finishing the trial and pronouncing a complete judgment.
In Suo Moto vs State of Kerala, the court held that the provisions under this section can be applied only in the unusual conditions wherein prima facie, no case can be made out against the accused or where the prosecution is bound to fail due to major technical issues. In this case, the accused had absconded and despite several initiations of coercive proceedings, his presence could not be secured in these circumstances, the court held it to be the wrong step to exercise powers under this section by the Magistrate, and hence, the decision of the learned magistrate was set aside and directions were given to take back the case on its track and to proceed in accordance with the law.
Section 259 of CrPc– This section bestows powers upon the magistrate to convert the procedure of a summon case into that of a warrant case at any stage during the trial. During the trial of summon case, it appears to the magistrate that a particular case needs to be treated like a warrant case, then in the interest of justice, the magistrate has the power to convert the procedure of a summon case into a warrant case.
After such conversion, the magistrate can re-hear the case as well as call upon the witnesses again who were already heard. It has to be noted that this section shall only apply to the cases in which punishment exceeds six months period.
It has been understood now that the whole chapter of the code is dedicated to the explanation of the procedure for conducting the summon cases. The procedure laid down assures the fulfillment of the principles of fair trial and along with fair trial, this whole chapter is intended to achieve the goal of speedy trial as in summon case, the nature of the offense is not serious in nature and hence, the petty cases are bound to be disposed of quickly without wasting the time of the court.
However, it is pertinent to note that nowhere it should come across anyone’s mind that these offenses are taken lightly. The procedure laid down under the above-mentioned sections needs to be followed properly and skipping or manipulating the trial would lend the whole case to be fatal.
This can be proved by the instance that section 259 of CrPc as we have already seen above which gives power to the magistrate to covert the procedure of a summon case into that of a warrant case. This signifies that even though this chapter aims for a speedy trial in petty cases, there may be instances where the procedure may be converted from simple to complex only in the interest of justice, and hence, aiming for justice is given priority in criminal proceedings.