Supreme Court Harmonizes Different High Court Rules for Appeals

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A suo motu proceeding under Article 32 was initiated by the Hon’ble Supreme Court during the course of a criminal appeal.

Facts

During the course of hearing of a criminal appeal, the Court noticed common lagging which occurs during criminal trials. These deficiencies were related to documents referred which were represented and exhibited in the judgment. The other deficiencies were lack of uniform practices regarding the preparation of injury reports, the deposition of witnesses, translation of the statement, numbering and nomenclature of witnesses, labelling of material objects, etc. These often lead to an asymmetric and hampered appreciation of evidence, which further leads to prolonging proceedings at the appellate stages.

Order dated 30.03.2017, the Court noticed inadequacies in the practices and rules of the High Court by taking a cue from existing rules in some High Courts. Thus, after seeing the differences in rules of High Courts, this Court felt the desirability of a uniform approach on the varied aforesaid topic.

The Court issued a notice for the same to all the concerned officials of all the States/Union Territories and their respective High Courts. On 07.11.2017 Mr Siddharth Luthra, Mr R. Basant, and Mr. K. Parmeshwar were appointed as amici curiae by the Court. All the High Courts to their Registrar General were called upon to submit their responses along with suggestions. By January 2019, 21 High Courts and 15 State/Union Territories had filed before this Court. Based on these responses, the amici curiae evolved a consultation paper with draft rules. These draught rules were circulated to all the High Courts with an Order dated 18.02.2019. On 30.03.2019 colloquium was scheduled and was attended by representatives of different States/Union Territories and their respective High Courts. After the suggestion given during the colloquium the amici curiae submitted “The Draft Rules of Criminal Practice 2020”. During the framework of drafting rules due care was taken to ensure uniformity the draught rules were compliant and not in any way repugnant to Cr. P.C 1973. Many suggestions were made as practice directions reflect the mandatory provisions of Cr.P.C.

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By Orders, on 27.10.2020 and 19.01.2020, the High Courts were once again directed to file their responses to The Draft Rules of Criminal Practice 2020. All High Courts filed their responses and summaries of the responses.

Contentions made in front of the Court 

The High Courts welcomed the suggestion of separating the prosecution from the investigation. But many High Courts pointed out that the steps should be taken by the State Governments. Similarly, the High Courts accepted the uniform manner in which body sketches spot panchnama, etc. should be brought in to record. The perusals of the responses given by the High Court to draft rules are as follows:

(1) Translations of deposition [Draft Rule 6(i) (ii)] – High Court of Madhya Pradesh, Kerala, Tamil   Nadu.

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(2) References to accused/witnesses/material objects (Draft Rule 9) – Allahabad, MP, Tripura, Kerala, Calcutta – The High Courts have suggested that along with the numbers assigned to the witness, accused, etc., names would also be used to avoid confusion.

(3)The rule requiring day to day trial (Rule 19(i)) – Madhya Pradesh, Manipur, Tripura

Moreover, the counsel appearing for the States and High Courts submitted that the provision in the draft rules requiring the trials would be conducted on a day-to-day basis could not be complied with. It was argued that Courts had to postpone or adjourn the case more often due to the non-availability of witnesses.

The amici representing the Supreme Court pointed out the list of documents and statements made by the accused during the trial should be kept in dark. Then he said that while furnishing the list of statements documents and material objects under Section 207 208 Cr. P.C, the magistrate should also ensure that a list of other material should be furnished to the accused. The amici pointed out that most of the trials were guided by the decision of this Court in Bipin Shantilal Panchal v. the State of Gujarat in respect to objections regarding the questions to be put to the witnesses. It was argued by the amici that the procedure led to the lengthy examination which resulted in prejudice. It was further claimed that these lengthy examinations multiply prejudice for the appellate Court. Therefore, the amici submitted that the rule in Bipin Shantilal Panchal required reconsideration. The amici based on the decision given in the case of Bipin Shantilal Panchal, the preceding officer would decide objections to the questions arising during the course of proceeding. This would result in de-cluttering the records.

Court’s observation 

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The Court believed that all the codes in all criminal trials would hold a preliminary case management hearing. This hearing would take place immediately after the framing of the charge. Also, the Courts would consider whether the parties were in a position to admit any document. If so the exercise of admission/denial would be carried out under Section 294 Cr. P.C for which a specific date should be fixed.

Court’s decision

The Court hereby finalized “The Draft Rules of Criminal Practice 2021” in terms of the above discussion. The Court appreciated the contribution of the three amici and their assistance Mr A Kartik, Ms Mehak Jaggi, Mr M V Mukunda. Therefore, the suo motu proceeding was disposed of in terms of the above direction.


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