The Supreme Court has observed that a trial court to exercise its powers of altering or adding charges under section 216 of the Code of Criminal Procedure even after the completion of evidence, arguments and reserving of the judgment.
In this case, the accused was charged under Section 498A of the IPC along with Sections 3 and 4 of the Dowry Prohibition Act. The trial commenced and after the recording of evidence and conclusion of arguments, the case was reserved for judgment. Thereafter, Public Prosecutor filed an application under Section 216 of CrPC for alteration of charge stating that even though an additional charge-sheet had been filed by the investigating officer implicating the accused for crimes under Sections 406 and 420, charges were not framed by the trial judge under those provisions. The Trial Court allowed the application and charges under Sections 406 and 420 were framed against the accused. The High Court, allowing the revision petition filed by the accused, set aside this order on the ground of procedural irregularity but left it open to the Trial Court to frame, if at all necessary, any additional charges after providing both the sides with an opportunity of hearing and recalling witnesses. The Trial Court, after hearing both sides, rejected the application for framing additional charges. On revision petition filed by the prosecution, the High Court directed the framing of additional charges under Sections 406 and 420 of the IPC.
In appeal, the bench comprising Justices Dhananjaya Y. Chandrachud and Hrishikesh Roy referred to earlier decisions and observed that Section 216 provides the court an exclusive and wide-ranging power to change or alter any charge. It said:
The use of the words "at any time before judgment is pronounced" in Sub-Section (1) empowers the court to exercise its powers of altering or adding charges even after the completion of evidence, arguments and reserving of the judgment. The alteration or addition of a charge may be done if in the opinion of the court there was an omission in the framing of charge or if upon prima facie examination of the material brought on record, it leads the court to form a presumptive opinion as to the existence of the factual ingredients constituting the alleged offence. The test to be adopted by the court while deciding upon an addition or alteration of a charge is that the material brought on record needs to have a direct link or nexus with the ingredients of the alleged offence. Addition of a charge merely commences the trial for the additional charges, whereupon, based on the evidence, it is to be determined whether the accused may be convicted for the additional charges. The court must exercise its powers under Section 216 judiciously and ensure that no prejudice is caused to the accused and that he is allowed to have a fair trial. The only constraint on the court's power is the prejudice likely to be caused to the accused by the addition or alteration of charges. Sub-Section (4) accordingly prescribes the approach to be adopted by the courts where prejudice may be caused.
Case name: Dr Nallapareddy Sridhar Reddy vs. State of Andhra Pradesh
Case no.: Criminal Appeal No. 1934 of 2019
Counsel: Sr. Adv Anitha Shenoy for Respondent and Sr. Adv A T M Ranga Ramanujam for Respondent
Coram: Justices Dhananjaya Y. Chandrachud and Hrishikesh Roy