SUPREME COURT HOLDS THAT THE ACCUSED CANNOT SUBMIT ANY MATERIAL OR DOCUMENT AT THE STAGE OF FRAMING OF CHARGES TO SEEK DISCHARGE
A two-Judge Bench of the Supreme Court comprising of Justice S. Ravindra Bhat and Justice Aravind Kumar passed a Judgment dated 09-10-2023 in the matter of State of Gujarat Vs. Dilipsinh Kishorsinh Rao, Criminal Appeal No. 2504 / 2023 and observed the Code of Criminal Procedure, 1973 (CrPC) does not provide any provisions that grant the Accused the right to file any material or documentation during the stage of framing of charges. Instead, the Trial Court must diligently evaluate the facts of the case and determine if the prosecution has presented sufficient grounds for trial, based on the charge-sheet itself.
i) That the aforesaid Appeal filed before the Apex Court by the State of Gujarat (Appellant) against one, Dilipsinh Kishorsinh Rao (Respondent), challenged the decision of the High Court of Gujarat (High Court), which had overturned the Trial Court’s rejection of the Respondent’s Application for Discharge under Section 227 of CrPC (Discharge).
ii) That the Prosecution’s case, detailed in the Charge-Sheet, centres on the Respondent’s alleged misuse of power while serving as a Sub-Inspector of Borsad Town Police Station from 2005 to 2011. The Prosecution asserts that, through corrupt practices, the Respondent accumulated assets in his and his wife’s name amounting to Rs.1,15,35,319/- (Rupees One Crore Fifteen Lakhs Thirty Five Thousand Three Hundred and Nineteen only). The said total amount exceeded his known source of income by Rs.32,68,258/- (Rupees Thirty-Two Lakhs Sixty-Eight Thousand Two Hundred and Fifty-Eight only) representing over 40% of his known income.
iii) Thereafter, the Respondent, in response to the allegations, filed an Application for Discharge under Sections 227 CrPC (Discharge) and 228 CrPC (Framing of Charge). He argued that the investigating officer failed to consider some key factors such as his written statement dated 13.08.2014, his permission to visit Australia, and the details of his property purchases that he provided to the Department. Additionally, he claimed that the investigating officer did not account for the sanctioned purchases made by the Department.
iv) Furthermore, the Respondent pointed out errors in the calculation of his disproportionate assets by the investigating agency, which, he claimed, they had not addressed. He also contended that they had not properly considered the statements of individuals who had lent him money. Based on these arguments, he asserted that the Charge-sheet did not reveal the commission of the alleged offence, and he sought discharge.
v) Subsequently, the Ld. District Court of Gujarat (Trial Court) evaluated these claims and took into account several critical aspects, including whether the Respondent had taken loans from family members, received loans from friends, and followed the rules by reporting property purchases to the Department. Thereafter, the Court also considered the explanations provided by the Accused and the validity of the sanctions granted.
vi) After a thorough examination, the Trial Court determined that there were sufficient grounds to proceed against the Accused. The Trial Court observed that the Charge- Sheet prima facie indicated the presence of all elements of disproportionate income with known sources, despite the Accused’s defenses.
vii) Aggrieved by the Trial Court’s decision, the Respondent appealed to the High Court, which subsequently allowed the Revision Application. The High Court reviewed the material on record and found that the Trial Court had made an error in dismissing the Application, ultimately discharging the Respondent based on this review.
TRIAL COURT FINDINGS:
A) That the Trial Court considered the explanations provided by the Accused regarding the alleged disproportionate income. It acknowledged that these explanations had already been considered during the filing of the Charge-Sheet and the granting of sanction. Despite the Accused’s defenses, there were still elements that raised suspicions about disproportionate assets in relation to his known sources of income.
B) Further, the Trial Court emphasized that it was not within its purview to conduct an exhaustive examination or weigh the evidence as if it were a trial. Instead, the Court asserted that a full-fledged trial was necessary to adequately address the complexities of the case, particularly since the Accused had significant knowledge about the source of income used to acquire various assets. Consequently, the Court found that there was no substantial basis to discharge the Accused at this stage, leading to the dismissal of the Application for Discharge.
HIGH COURT FINDINGS:
Aggrieved by the Order passed by the Ld. Trial Court, the Respondent filed a Criminal Revision Application No. 387 / 2016 before the Hon’ble High Court of Gujarat, (Ahmedabad). The Hon’ble High Court vide Order dated 11.01.2018 made the following observations:
a) Upon reviewing the material on record, the Hon’ble High Court concluded that the Trial Court had made an error in dismissing the Application for Discharge and accepting the Respondent’s plea, which was essentially presented as a defense. The High Court found that the Trial Court’s decision had not properly considered the facts and circumstances of the case, including the explanations and evidence provided by the Respondent.
b) The High Court stated that it was the responsibility of the Trial Court to assess the evidence and determine whether there was a prima facie case against the Accused. However, the High Court observed that the Trial Court had not taken into account all the explanations and evidence presented by the Respondent, which created an impression that the Accused’s defenses had been overlooked.
c) Hence, the High Court allowed the Revision Application filed by the Respondent-Accused and overturned the decision of the Trial Court. The High Court concluded that a full-fledged trial was necessary to thoroughly examine the validity of the allegations and the Respondent’s defenses, indicating that there was doubt regarding the initial findings of the Trial Court.
Aggrieved by the Order dated 11.01.2018 passed by the Hon’ble High Court, the Appellant filed a Criminal Appeal No. 2504 / 2023 before the Hon’ble Supreme Court on 18.06.2018. The Apex Court, in its observations, addressed the crucial issues which are as follows:
I) The primary issue before the Hon’ble Supreme Court in this case was whether the High Court had acted appropriately in setting aside the Trial Court’s Order. Specifically, the Supreme Court was tasked with determining whether the High Court had erred in interfering with the Trial Court’s decision to dismiss the Application for Discharge filed by the Respondent-Accused.
II) The secondary issue at hand was whether the Trial Court’s Order to proceed with the trial and not discharge the Accused was legally sound.
1) That the Supreme Court emphasized that applying a judicial mind for determining whether a case exists for proceeding with a trial is essential. Further, the Bench observed that when an Application for discharge is filed, the Court’s primary responsibility is to examine the prosecution’s evidence to determine if there are sufficient grounds to proceed against the Accused based on the Charge-sheet.
2) The Supreme Court clarifies that the Accused does not have the right to produce additional material or call upon the Court to examine such material at the time of framing of charge. The Court’s evaluation should be confined to the material presented by the investigating agency. The Apex Court’s focus is on determining whether the Prosecution’s case, based on the Charge-sheet material, establishes a prima facie case for proceeding with the trial.
3) The Bench underlined that the Trial Court should operate on the assumption that the Prosecution’s material is true and evaluate this material to ascertain whether the facts, taken at face value, reveal the existence of the essential elements necessary for the alleged offence. The Apex Court emphasized that it should not engage in a deep examination of the probative value of the material at this stage. The question to be considered is whether there are grounds for presuming that the Accused has committed the alleged offence.
4) The Apex Court highlighted that the revisional jurisdiction of a higher court under Section 397 Cr. P. C. (calling for records to exercise powers of revision) is limited and should be exercised sparingly. The Court’s role is to rectify patent defects, errors of jurisdiction or law, or perversity in lower Court proceedings. The Court should not be invoked against interim or interlocutory Orders. The Court should be reluctant to interfere with quashing charges under Section 397 unless the case substantially falls within specific categories, such as gross erroneous decisions, non-compliance with legal provisions, lack of evidence, or arbitrary or perverse exercise of judicial discretion.
5) The Supreme Court emphasized that quashing a charge is an exception to the rule of continuous prosecution. The Court should be more inclined to permit the continuation of prosecution rather than quashing the charges at the initial stage. The Court should not meticulously examine the evidence or try to predict the outcome of the trial. It should focus on whether the allegations, taken as a whole, constitute an offence and whether quashing the charges would result in an abuse of the Court’s process leading to injustice.
Based on the aforementioned observation, the Apex Court’s ruling centered on the proper application of judicial discretion during framing of charge and the circumscribed scope of revisional jurisdiction. The Court underscored that when an application for discharge is filed, the Trial Court’s primary role is to evaluate whether a prima facie case exists for trial, based on the prosecution’s charge-sheet material, and refrain from delving into the merits of the defense.
The Bench further emphasized the inappropriateness of conducting a mini-trial at this stage, urging the assumption that the Prosecution’s material is true for an unbiased assessment. The Supreme Court’s decision ultimately rested on the premise that the High Court had erroneously intervened in the Trial Court’s well-reasoned order.
As a result, the Appeal was allowed and the Apex Court set aside the High Court’s Order dated 11.01.2018, permitting the Trial Court to proceed with the trial, with an emphasis on expeditious resolution.
The Indian Lawyer