A bench of the Supreme Court consisting of Justices DY Chandrachud and MR Shah has outlined the scope and ambit of Section 319 of the Criminal Procedure Code.
The trial court in Punjab has rejected an application filed under Section 319 of the Cr.PC seeking to summon private respondents as additional accused based upon an examination in chief of an eye witness in a murder case. The Punjab and Haryana High Court had upheld the order and therefore petitioner Manjeet Singh had approached the Supreme Court.
The Supreme Court observed, "Now thereafter when in the examination-in-chief the appellant herein – victim – injured eye witness has specifically named the private respondents herein with specific role attributed to them, the Learned trial Court as well as the High Court ought to have summoned the private respondents herein to face the trial. At this stage it is required to be noted that so far as the appellant herein is concerned he is an injured eye-witness."
The bench cited judgements in cases of State of MP v. Mansingh (2003) 10 SCC 414 (para 9); Abdul Sayeed v. State of MP (2010) 10 SCC 259; State of Uttar Pradesh v. Naresh (2011) 4 SCC 324.
It held, "the evidence of an injured eye witness has greater evidential value and unless compelling reasons exist, their statements are not to be discarded lightly. As observed hereinabove while exercising the powers under Section 319 CrPC the Court has not to wait till the cross-examination and on the basis of the examination-in-chief of a witness if a case is made out, a person can be summoned to face the trial under Section 319 CrPC."
The bench further held, "At the stage of exercising the powers under Section 319 CrPC, the Court is not required to appreciate and/or enter on the merits of the allegations of the case. The High Court has lost sight of the fact that the allegations against all the accused persons right from the very beginning were for the offences under Sections 302, 307, 341, 148 & 149 IPC. The High Court has failed to appreciate the fact that for attracting the offence under Section 149 IPC only forming part of unlawful assembly is sufficient and the individual role and/or overt act is immaterial. Therefore, the reasoning given by the High Court that no injury has been attributed to either of the respondents except that they were armed with weapons and therefore, they cannot be added as accused is unsustainable. The Learned trial Court and the High Court have failed to exercise the jurisdiction and/or powers while exercising the powers under Section 319 CrPC."
While delivering the judgment, the bench summarized the scope and ambit of Section 319 of the Cr.PC as under:-
(i) That while exercising the powers under Section 319 CrPC and to summon the persons not charge-sheeted, the entire effort is not to allow the real perpetrator of an offence to get away unpunished;
(ii) for the empowerment of the courts to ensure that the criminal administration of justice works properly;
(iii) the law has been properly codified and modified by the legislature under the CrPC indicating as to how the courts should proceed to ultimately find out the truth so that the innocent does not get punished but at the same time, the guilty are brought to book under the law;
(iv) to discharge duty of the court to find out the real truth and to ensure that the guilty does not go unpunished;
(v) where the investigating agency for any reason does not array one of the real culprits as an accused, the court is not powerless in calling the said accused to face trial;
(vi) Section 319 CrPC allows the court to proceed against any person who is not an accused in a case before it;
(vii) the court is the sole repository of justice and a duty is cast upon it to uphold the rule of law and, therefore, it will be inappropriate to deny the existence of such powers with the courts in our criminal justice system where it is not uncommon that the real accused, at times, get away by manipulating the investigating and/or the prosecuting agency;
(viii) Section 319 CrPC is an enabling provision empowering the court to take appropriate steps for proceeding against any person not being an accused for also having committed the offence under trial;
(ix) the power under Section 319(1) CrPC can be exercised at any stage after the charge-sheet is filed and before the pronouncement of judgment, except during the stage of Sections 207/208 CrPC, committal, etc. which is only a pretrial stage intended to put the process into motion;
(x) the court can exercise the power under Section 319 CrPC only after the trial proceeds and commences with the recording of the evidence;
(xi) the word "evidence" in Section 319 CrPC means only such evidence as is made before the court, in relation to statements, and as produced before the court, in relation to documents;
(xii) it is only such evidence that can be taken into account by the Magistrate or the court to decide whether the power under Section 319 CrPC is to be exercised and not on the basis of material collected during the investigation;
(xiii) if the Magistrate/court is convinced even on the basis of evidence appearing in examination-in-chief, it can exercise the power under Section 319 CrPC and can proceed against such other person(s);
(xiv) that the Magistrate/court is convinced even on the basis of evidence appearing in examination-in-chief, powers under Section 319 CrPC can be exercised;
(xv) that power under Section 319 CrPC can be exercised even at the stage of completion of examination-in-chief and the 38 court need not has to wait till the said evidence is tested on cross-examination;
(xvi) even in a case where the stage of giving opportunity to the complainant to file a protest petition urging upon the trial court to summon other persons as well who were named in FIR but not implicated in the charge-sheet has gone, in that case also, the Court is still not powerless by virtue of Section 319 CrPC and even those persons named in FIR but not implicated in the charge-sheet can be summoned to face the trial, provided during the trial some evidence surfaces against the proposed accused (may be in the form of examination-in-chief of the prosecution witnesses);
(xvii) while exercising the powers under Section 319 CrPC the Court is not required and/or justified in appreciating the deposition/evidence of the prosecution witnesses on merits which is required to be done during the trial.
The Supreme Court set aside the judgment and order of the High Court and the Trial Court and allowed the application filed under Section 319 CrPC.