The victim of the offence or the accused should not suffer for laches or omission of the Court; SC issues guidelines for Appellate Courts for dealing with the plea of non- compliance of S. 313 Cr.P.C [Examination of Accused]

The victim of the offence or the accused should not suffer for laches or omission of the Court; SC issues guidelines for Appellate Courts for dealing with the plea of non- compliance of S. 313 Cr.P.C [Examination of Accused]

A two Judge Bench of the Supreme Court in Nar Singh Vs. State of Haryana [Crl. Appeal No. 2388/2014] held that “the victim of the offence or the accused should not suffer for laches or omission of the court. Criminal justice is not one-sided. It has many facets and we have to draw a balance between conflicting rights and duties”. The Court was considering the effect of non-compliance of mandatory provisions of Section 313 Cr.P.C while examining the Accused in a Criminal Trial. The Court explained the scope of S.313 as follows;

“There are two kinds of examination under Section 313 Cr.P.C. The first under Section 313 (1) (a) Cr.P.C. relates to any stage of the inquiry or trial; while the second under Section 313 (1) (b) Cr.P.C. takes place after the prosecution witnesses are examined and before the accused is called upon to enter upon his defence. The former is particular andoptional; but the latter is general and mandatory”.

After elaborately discussing various Judgments on the point the Court held as follows;

Whenever a plea of omission to put a question to the accused on vital piece of evidence is raised in the appellate court, courses available to the appellate court can be briefly summarised as under:- 

Whenever a plea of non-compliance of Section 313 Cr.P.C. is raised, it is within the powers of the appellate court to examine and further examine the convict or the counsel appearing for the accused and the said answers shall be taken into consideration for deciding the matter. If the accused is unable to offer the appellate court any reasonable explanation of such circumstance, the court may assume that the accused has no acceptable explanation to offer; 

(ii) In the facts and circumstances of the case, if the appellate court comes to the conclusion that no prejudice was caused or no failure of justice was occasioned, the appellate court will hear and decide the matter upon merits. 

(iii) If the appellate court is of the opinion that noncompliance with the provisions of Section 313 Cr.P.C. has occasioned or is likely to have occasioned prejudice to the accused, the appellate court may direct retrial from the stage of recording the statements of the accused from the point where the irregularity occurred, that is, from the stage of questioning the accused under Section 313 Cr.P.C. and the trial Judge may be directed to examine the accused afresh and defence witness if any and dispose of the matter afresh; 

(iv) The appellate court may decline to remit the matter to the trial court for retrial on account of long time already spent in the trial of the case and the period of sentence already undergone by the convict and in the facts and circumstances of the case, may decide the appeal on its own merits, keeping in view the prejudice caused to the accused.

It is also held that “While it is incumbent upon the Court to see that persons accused of crime must be given a fair trial and get speedy justice, in our view, every reasonable latitude must be given to those who are entrusted with administration of justice. In the facts and circumstances of each case, court should examine whether remand of the matter to the trial court would amount to indefinite harassment of the accused. When there is omission to put material evidence to the accused in the course of examination under Section 313 Cr.P.C., prosecution is not guilty of not adducing or suppressing such evidence; it is only the failure on the part of the learned trial court. The victim of the offence or the accused should not suffer for laches or omission of the court. Criminal justice is not one-sided. It has many facets and we have to draw a balance between conflicting rights and duties”.

Read the Judgment here.