The Karnataka High Court has held that during the Pandemic situation, trial courts can use video conferencing to record the plea of the accused with respect to framing of charge under Sections 228, 240 or 252 and examination of an accused under section 313 of Code of Criminal Procedure (CrPC) through video-conference. The facility can be used in case of accused who are in judicial custody and those out on bail.
A division bench of Chief Justice Abhay Oka and Justice S Vishwajith Shetty gave the direction while hearing of a suo-motu petition taken up by the court to address the various legal and technical issues that would be faced by trial courts during the partial functioning, which commenced from June 1.
It said :
"Thus, at the time of framing of charge and at the time of recording of plea, the presence of the accused before the Court can be procured through Video Conferencing. By procuring the presence of the accused through Video Conferencing in case of Sessions triable cases and in case of warrant triable cases, the charge can be read over and explained to the accused and his plea can be recorded".
"The course adopted by the courts while recording the plea of the accused and recording the statement of the accused under Section 313 of Cr.P.C through video conferencing hearing will be a step taken to reduce the physical presence of the stakeholders in the Courts precincts to meet the exceptional situation and to secure the functioning of the courts by following the best possible health practice. Therefore, such a course adopted by the Courts shall be deemed to be lawful."
The court has based its finding primarily on Apex court order dated April 6, in suo – motu writ petition, which was initiated by the Apex Court (In Re: Guidelines for Courts functioning through Video Conferencing during COVID 19 pandemic).
In its order the Apex court had said "All measures that have been and shall be taken by this Court and by the High Courts, to reduce the need for the physical presence of all stakeholders within court premises and to secure the functioning of courts in consonance with social distancing guidelines and best public health practices shall be deemed to be lawful; (ii) The Supreme Court of India and all High Courts are authorized to adopt measures required to ensure the robust functioning of the judicial system through the use of video conferencing technologies."
Relying on Rule 11.2 of the Video Conferencing Hearing Rules framed by the High court which specifically permits recording of a statement of the accused under Section 313 through Video Conferencing.
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Procedure For accused in judicial custody:
If the accused is in Judicial Custody, Video Conferencing facility can be provided at the prison and in such case, the remote point coordinator within the meaning of Rule 5.3 will be the Jail Superintendent or the officer in-charge of the prison. If by way of abundant precaution, the learned judges desires that the signature of the accused is necessary on the plea, in case of accused in judicial custody, a copy of the charge framed and plea recorded thereon can be sent by e-mail to the coordinator who will be an officer of the concerned prison. He can be directed to download the same, take print and obtain the signature of the accused in his presence and send it to the Court.
For accused out on bail
In case of an accused on bail, the coordinator can be directed to follow the same procedure. While recording the plea, the Judicial Officer will be well advised to record a statement of the accused that the Judge was clearly audible and visible to him while the charge was read over and explained to him and while his plea was recorded. A fit and proper person appointed by the court will be the coordinator at the remote point where the accused is sitting.
Last week, the Court had clarified that the video conferencing can be used to produce the accused before the Magistrate even for the purpose of first remand in exceptional cases in the wake of the pandemic.
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