The Code of Criminal Procedure, 1973 provides for different types of criminal trials for different types of criminal cases. If the offence is of a serious nature, the trial procedure is more elaborate whereas for offences of lesser gravity, the trial procedure is simple and less elaborate.
One of the basic classifications of offences is “Summons case” and “Warrant case”. According to section 2(x) of the Code of Criminal Procedure, a Warrant case refers to any case relating to an offence punishable with death, imprisonment for life or imprisonment for a term exceeding two years. Whereas, a Summons case, according to section 2(w) of the Code, means a case relating to an offence not being a warrant case. In other words, Summons case includes all cases relating to offences where the punishment is less than two years.
The Trial procedure for a Warrant case is much more elaborate than the trial procedure for a Summons case. Therefore, the type of Trial procedure depends upon the classification of offences. The Code has laid down the following types of Trial procedures:
1. Trial before a Sessions Court (Sessions Trial),
2. Trial of Warrant cases by Magistrates (Warrant Trial),
3. Trial of Summons cases by Magistrates (Summons Trial) and
It is popularly considered that the first two types of Trial procedures are adopted in Warrant Cases while the last two types of Trial procedures are adopted in Summons Cases.[i]
Trial before a Sessions Court or Sessions Trial:
As discussed above, Trials of Warrant cases are more elaborate and are of a more serious nature than that of the Trials of Summons cases. Even under Warrant trials, the cases relating to offences of higher gravity are dealt with by the Sessions Court whereas the cases relating to offences of lesser gravity are dealt with the Magistrates.
Section 26 of the Code titled “Courts by which offences are triable” read with Schedule I of the Code titled “Classification of Offences” are used to determine whether an offence is triable by the Magistrate or the Court of Sessions.
However, even in cases where an offence is exclusively tried by Sessions Court, it cannot take cognizance of such an offence. According to Section 209 of the Code, A competent Magistrate may take cognizance of such an offence and then commit the case to the Court of Sessions for Trial.
Although Section 199(2) of the Code acts as an exception to this where a Court of Sessions may directly take cognizance of an offence without the case being committed to it in case of defamation of high dignitaries and public servants under certain circumstances.
According to Section 225 of the Code, in ever trial before a Court of Sessions, the prosecution will be conducted by a Public Prosecutor.[ii]
Trial of Warrant cases by Magistrates or Warrant Trial:
For trials of Warrant cases by Magistrates, there are three procedures prescribed;
- Provisions applicable with respect to warrant cases instituted on Police Report: Sections 238-243 of the Code,
- Provisions applicable with respect to warrant cases instituted otherwise than on a Police Report: Sections 244- 247 of the Code and
- Provisions that are commonly applicable to all warrant cases instituted on a police report or otherwise: Sections 248-250 of the Code.
Cases instituted on Police report:
According to Section 238 of the Code, when in any warrant case instituted on a police report and the accused appears or is brought before the Magistrate, then he shall satisfy himself that he has supplied the accused with copies of all necessary documents like the Police report, FIR, statements of persons recorded by the Police during investigations etc,. as required under section 207 of the Act.
According to Section 239 of the Code, if the Magistrate upon examination of the charge-sheet filed and all other relevant documents sent, finds that the charge against the accused is groundless, then he may discharge the accused and record his reasons for doing so.
However, if upon examination he finds that there is a ground for presuming that the accused has committed an offence, he may proceed to frame charges in accordance with Section 240 of CrPC.
If the accused pleads guilty to the offence, then the Magistrate shall record the plea and use his discretion to convict him under section 241. If the accused doesn’t plead guilty then the Magistrate may fix a date for examination of witnesses and issue summons to witnesses according to Section 242.
Section 243 which deals with “Evidence for defence” is equally applicable to cases instituted on police report and otherwise.
Cases instituted otherwise than on a police report:
According to section 244, When, in any warrant-case instituted otherwise than on a police report, and the accused either appears or is brought before a Magistrate, the Magistrate shall proceed to hear the prosecution and take all such evidence as may be produced in support of the prosecution. The Magistrate can also, on the application of the prosecution, issue a summons to any of its witnesses directing him to attend or to produce any document or other thing.
Upon taking all the evidence produced before him, if the Magistrate feels that no case has been made out against the accused, then he may discharge the accused after recording reasons for the same under section 245(1).
However, if the accused in not discharged then procedure according to section 246 shall be followed. The Magistrate shall proceed to frame charge under section 246 against the accused, the charge shall then be read and explained to the accused and then he has to be asked whether he pleads guilty or has any defence to make.
If the accused refuses to plead guilty or does not plead or claims to be tried then he shall be required to state whether he wants to cross examine any witnesses for the prosecution whose evidence has been taken. If the accused is ready to cross examine the witnesses, they shall be recalled for cross examination as well as re-examination if necessary.
Under section 247 of Cr. P. C. the accused shall be called upon to enter upon his defence and to produce his defence in accordance with section 243 as discussed earlier.
Common provisions regarding Conclusion of Trial:
Acquittal or Conviction of the Accused is under section 248 of the Code. After the close of the evidence for defence, and upon hearing the arguments, the Magistrate shall pronounce the judgement. If the Magistrates find the accused not guilty then they shall record an order of Acquittal under section 248(1). If the accused in found guilty, then he shall hear the accused on the question of sentence and then pass the sentence upon him according to section 248(2).
As per section 250 if in any case the accused is discharged or acquitted and the person upon whose complaint or information the accusation was made is present, the Magistrate may call upon him to show cause why he should not pay compensation to such accused or to each or any of such accused when there are more than one. If the complainant is absent then the summons may be issued to him to appear. Under section 250  the accusation must be proved to have been made without reasonable cause. If there was no reasonable ground for making the accusation, then the Magistrate may make an order fixing the compensation to be paid to the accused.
The provisions of section 250 of the Code apply to summons cases as well as warrant cases.
Trial of Summons cases by Magistrates or Summons Trial:
A summons case is related to offences where the punishment is less than two years. In Summons Trial there is no “framing of a charge” and the Court issues a summons. Once the Accused appears acting upon the summons, the Court will then give him the particulars of the accusation called as “Notice”. Sections 251-259 of CrPC deal with Summons Trial.
According to section 251, if an accused in a summons case appears or is brought before the Magistrate, the particulars of the offence for which he is an accused shall be read out to him and he shall be asked if he wants to plead guilty or has any defence to make. If the accused pleads guilty, the Magistrate shall record the plea in nearly the same words as uttered by the accused and use his discretion to convict him under section 252 of the Code.[iii]
Section 253 deals with Conviction on plea of guilty in absence of accused in petty cases and acts as an exception to general rule which provides a simple procedure for disposing of petty cases without the presence of accused in court by post and messenger. By this provision discretion is given to the Magistrate to convict the accused. It also enables the pleader authorised by the accused to plead guilty on behalf of his client when offence is punishable only with fine.
Section 254 deals with a situation when the accused is not convicted and the Magistrate shall hear prosecution and take defence and shall also hear the accused and take his defence if any.
If the Magistrate upon hearing both sides, finds the accused not guilty, shall record an order of acquittal and if he is found guilty, then the Magistrate shall pass a sentence accordingly in accordance with section 255 of CrPC.
Chapter XXI of the Code of Criminal Procedure deals with Summary trials under Sections 260-265. The object of Summary trial is to deal with cases speedily.
The procedure for Summary trials is laid down in section 262 which prescribes the procedure in trial of summons case to be followed in a summary trial as well. The section also lays down that no sentence of imprisonment for a term exceeding three months shall be passed in summary trials.
Section 264 lays down that in every case tried summarily in which the accused does not plead guilty, the Magistrate shall record the substance of the evidence and a judgment containing a brief statement of the reasons for the same shall be recorded.
Summary trials deal with cases relating to petty offences and hence the procedure for trial is not elaborate. There is no appeal in such a trial if a sentence of fine only not exceeding two hundred rupees has been awarded. However, there can be an application for revision to the High Court.
Edited by Pushpamrita Roy
Approved & Published – Sakshi Raje
[i] R.V.Kelkar’s Lectures on Criminal Procedure, 6th Ed, 192.
[ii] Public prosecutor defined under Section 2 (u) of CrPC, 1973.