SUPREME COURT HOLDS NON-SUPPLY OF TRANSLATED COPIES OF CHARGESHEETS TO ACCUSED WOULD NOT AMOUNT TO FAILURE OF JUSTICE
In a recent case of Central Bureau of Investigation vs Narottam Dhakad & Anr. Criminal Appeal No. 2592 of 2023 and Central Bureau of Investigation vs Sunil Singh & Anr. Criminal Appeal No. 2593 of 2023, a two Judge Bench of the Supreme Court comprising of Justice Abhay S. Oka and Justice Rajesh Bindal passed a Judgment dated 25-08-2023 and observed that non-supply of a translated version of a chargesheet and relevant documents to the accused persons would not amount to an error or omission, unless it is shown that the accused was misled and that it resulted in failure of justice.
i) In the present case, several Chargesheets were filed by the Appellant-Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI) pertaining to the offences arising out of the Vyapam Scam in Madhya Pradesh, wherein according to the CBI, the accused candidates had adopted a unique system or method of cheating in the professional examination by (a) engaging intelligent students to attend the exam, for allowing copying of their answers by the beneficiaries, who would sit behind them and (b) some candidates even bribed the officials and rigged the exams by deploying imposters to write their answer sheets. The said Scam broke out in 2013 and the CBI took over the investigation in 2015.
ii) The present case deals with two Chargesheets filed by CBI in Crime No. 17 / 2015 in respect of the Respondent- Narottam Dhakad and Crime No. 242 / 2009 in respect of the Respondent- Sunil Singh before the Ld. Judicial Magistrate (Trial Court) for various offences under Sections 419 of the Indian Penal Code 1860 (IPC) (Punishment for cheating by personation), 420 IPC (Cheating and dishonestly inducing delivery of property), 467 IPC (Forgery of valuable security, will, etc), 468 IPC (Forgery for purpose of cheating) and 471 IPC (Using as genuine a forged document or electronic record) and Sections 3 and 4 of the Madhya Pradesh Recognised Examinations Act 1937 (Restriction on copies of question paper and offer of information) and (Penalty) respectively.
iii) The Respondent- Narottam Dhakad, had filed an Application before the Trial Court in the aforesaid case, seeking directions to the CBI to provide him with a Hindi translation of the Chargesheet filed by the CBI, as he was unable to read and understand the contents thereof in English Language.
iv) However, the Trial Court observed that (a) the Respondent was an educated person, (b) he had filed his Vakalat in English and also signed the same in English and (c) furthermore, he had engaged a counsel who was well-versed in English language. Hence, the Trial Court held that the Respondent had sound knowledge of English language, hence, his prayer was rejected.
v) The said Order of the Trial Court was upheld by Ld. Additional Sessions Judge, Gwalior (Sessions Court 1) in Sessions Trial / 114 / 2017, vide Order dated 04-10-2017.
vi) Aggrieved by the Sessions Court 1 Order dated 04-10-2017, the Respondent filed a Petition under Section 482 of the Code of Criminal Procedure 1973 (CrPC) (Saving of inherent power of High Court) before the High Court of Madhya Pradesh in Miscellaneous Criminal Case bearing Cr.C. No. 20941 / 2017, seeking setting aside of the Sessions Court 1 Order dated 04-10-2017.
vii) However, the High Court, vide Order dated 20-11-2017, held that in terms of Section 272 CrPC (Language of Courts), ‘Hindi in Deonagari Script’ was notified as the language of the Criminal Courts in the State of Madhya Pradesh and thus, the Respondent was entitled to a translation of Chargesheet into language of the Court. As a result, the Sessions Court 1 Order dated 04-10-2017 was set aside.
viii) Similarly, the other Respondent, Sunil Singh, had made a similar prayer before the Trial Court for grant of Chargesheet in Hindi language, which was rejected by the Trial Court and the said Trial Court Order was upheld by the Ld. IX Additional Sessions and Special Judge, CBI (VYAPAM), Bhopal (Sessions Court 2) in Sessions Trial bearing T. No.1093 of 2019, vide Order dated 08-03-2022.
ix) Aggrieved by the Sessions Court 2 Order dated 08-03-2022, the other Respondent filed a Petition under Section 482 of CrPC before the High Court of Madhya Pradesh (M.P.) at Jabalpur in Miscellaneous Criminal Case bearing Cr.C. No. 26986 / 2022, seeking setting aside of the Sessions Court 2 Order dated 08-03-2022.
x) The High Court of M.P. at Jabalpur, vide Order dated 13-06-2022, also held that the Respondent was entitled to a translation of the Chargesheet into the language of the Court. As a result, the Sessions Court 2 Order dated 08-03-2022 was set aside.
Supreme Court Observations
Aggrieved by the High Court Orders dated 20-11-2017 and 13-06-2022, the CBI filed SLPs before the Hon’ble Supreme Court, which were registered as Criminal Appeal No. 2592 of 2023 and Criminal Appeal No. 2593 of 2023. The Apex Court, vide Order dated 25-08-2023, made the following observations:
(1) That as per Section 173 CrPC (Report of police officer on completion of investigation), a police report / chargesheet has to be submitted by a police officer with the Magistrate, upon completion of investigation, in the form prescribed by the State Government along with the statements of witnesses recorded under Section 161 CrPC (Examination of witnesses by police).
(2) Further, Section 207 CrPC (Supply to the accused of copy of police report and other documents) requires the Magistrate to furnish a copy of the police report, FIR, witness statements, or any part of such material to the accused, where proceedings have been instituted based on a police report.
(3) That upon reading Section 173 CrPC with Section 207 CrPC, it is clear that (i) the State Government is empowered to prescribe a form in which a police report / chargesheet has to be filed and (ii) it is mandatory and it is the obligation of the Magistrate to furnish copies of the Police Report / Chargesheets, FIR, witness statements or any part thereof to the Respondents-Accused, upon institution and taking cognizance of the case based on the Chargesheets in their respective cases. But Section 173 (2) CrPC does not mandate to use the language of the Court per se i.e. Hindi in the present case, in the proceedings.
(4) Further, there is no other provision in the said Chapter XII of CrPC (Information to the Police and their Powers to Investigate) and Chapter XVI of CrPC (Commencement of Proceedings before Magistrates) which makes it an obligation to file chargesheets / police reports in the language of the Court.
(5) Furthermore, Section 272 CrPC deals only with the language of the Courts under CrPC but does not empower the State Government to decide which language has to be used by the investigating agencies or the police for the purposes of maintaining the records of the investigation.
(6) That although Section 211 (6) of CrPC (Contents of charge) provides that “the charge shall be written in the language of the Court”, but in the event the charges framed are not written in the language of the Court, then in such case, as per Section 215 CrPC (Effect of errors), unless the accused is shown to have been misled by any error or omission in stating either the offence or the particulars to be stated in the charge at any stage of the case, such error or omission would not amount to failure of justice.
(7) Thus, applying the aforesaid principle to the present case, the Bench observed that “even if the charge is not framed in the language of the Court, the omission to frame the charge in the language of the Court shall not be material unless it is shown that the accused was misled and it resulted in failure of justice.”
(8) That in the present case, the Counsels for the Respondents were fully conversant with the contents of the Chargesheets and understood English Language, so they would be in a position to explain the charges, etc to the Respondents and moreover, the Respondents themselves were educated persons and were conversant with English Language. Hence, translated copies of Chargesheets were not required to be furnished to the Respondents.
(9) Furthermore, central investigating agencies such as the CBI, the National Investigation Agency (NIA), etc investigate serious offences and hence, they would not be in a position to file final report, in every case, in the language of the Court, as determined under Section 272 of CrPC.
Thus, based on the aforesaid observations, the Supreme Court held that it cannot be said that non-supply of a translated version of the Chargesheets and other material documents to the Respondents-Accused would amount to failure of justice. Hence, the Appeals filed by the CBI were allowed and the High Court Orders dated 20-11-2017 and 13-06-2022 directing the CBI to furnish Chargesheets translated into the language of the Court to the Respondents, were set aside.
The Indian Lawyer
 Section 272 CrPC: Language of Courts.—The State Government may determine what shall be, for purposes of this Code, the language of each Court within the State other than the High Court
 As per Notification No. 45940- F.N.7(A)-5-76-B-XXI. dated 22-11-1976, published in M.P. Rajpatra (Ext.) d. 23-11-1976, p.3323