The Supreme Court on Tuesday ordered High Courts across the country to amend their rules governing criminal trials in order to incorporate the draft rules prepared by three Supreme Court appointed Amici Curiae with a view to address delays and deficiencies in criminal trials.
The judgment was delivered by a bench of Chief Justice of India SA Bobde, and Justices L Nageswara Rao and S Ravindra Bhat.
“All High Courts shall take expeditious steps to incorporate said Draft Rules 2021 as part of rules governing criminal trials and ensure that the existing rules, certifications, orders and practice directions are suitably modified and promulgated wherever neccessary in official gazette within six months from today,” the Court said.
If the State government’s cooperation is necessary in this regard, the approval of the concerned departments and formal notification of the said draft rules shall be made within six months, the Court added.
The top court had taken suo motu cognizance of the issue after it had noticed inadequacies in the procedure followed during the criminal trials across the country.
“It was found that some of these inadequacies and deficiencies were relatable to the rules in that regard framed by the various High Courts. Undoubtedly such inadequacies and deficiencies attributable to the rules do not exist in all the High Courts,” the Court had stated in a January 20, 2021 order.
The Court had then appointed three lawyers as Amici Curiae to look into the delays concerning criminal trials across courts in the Indian legal system.
The three lawyers were Senior Advocates Siddharth Luthra and R Basant and advocate K Parameshwar.
The Amici Curiae had submitted its detailed report in March, 2020 after extensive deliberations with the representatives of different states, union territories and high courts.
They placed before the Supreme Court ‘Draft Rules of Criminal Practice, 2020’ (draft rules) outlining a slew of measures aimed at addressing shortcomings in the trial of criminal cases and to bring about uniformity of practice across the country in criminal probe and trial.
The measures suggested in the draft rules included steps to ensure independence of public prosecutors by appointing separate legal advisors to advise the investigators during the probe, photographing and videographing post-mortem of deceased persons who have died in police custody and uniform practices for recording evidence and writing judgments.
Some of the measures suggested in the draft rules are given below.
Body Sketch to accompany Medico Legal certificate
Every post-mortem report should contain a printed format/ sketch of the human body indicating injuries. The sketch should contain frontal and rear view of the human body.
Photographs and Videograph of post mortem in certain cases
In case of death of a person in police action or while in police custody, the investigating officer should inform the doctor-in charge to arrange for photographs or videography for conducting post-mortem examination of the deceased person. Photographs of the deceased shall also be taken in all cases.
Such photographs and videographs should be made part of evidence by seizure under a panchnama, a document which records evidence and findings that an officer makes at the scene of an offence/crime.
The investigating officer should take necessary steps to preserve the original copies of such photographs and videographs.
The videos and photographs should also be stored on a separate memory card.
A site plan of the place of occurrence of an incident should be prepared by the investigating officer by hand and the same should be appended to the panchnama.
Recording of Evidence
The deposition of witnesses should be in typed format and should be prepared on computers, if available.
If the deposition of the witness is in a language other than English, the deposition should be recorded both in the language of the witness and in English.
When the deposition is not in English, the translation into English can be done either by the presiding officer of the court or through a translator.
Reference to accused
After charges are framed, accused should be referred to only by their rank in the array of the accused and not by their names except during the stage of identification of the accused by witnesses.
The witnesses, exhibits and other material objects which form part of the evidence should also be referred to by their numbers and not by names.
Every judgment should contain a preface showing the names of the parties and an appendix giving the list of prosecution witnesses, defence witnesses and other evidence.
It should also set out the points for determination, the decision on the points and the reasons for arriving at the decision.
In the judgment, the accused, witnesses and material objects should be referred to by their numbers and not names.
In case of conviction, the judgment should separately indicate the offence involved and the sentence awarded. In case of acquittal, a direction should be given to release the accused if he/ she is in jail.
In order to ensure speedy trial in criminal cases, once the examination of witnesses has commenced, the trial should be held on a day to day basis.
If witnesses are in attendance, no adjournment or postponement should be granted except for special reasons which should be recorded.
Separation of prosecutors and Investigators
In order to ensure that public prosecutors function independent of the investigators, the state government should appoint advocates other than prosecutors to advice investigating officers during the probe of a criminal case.