What is a Summons Case?— It means a case relating to an offence not punishable with Death, Life Imprisonment or Imprisonment for more than two years.
Trial procedure for a summons case is prescribed mainly in Section 251 to 259 of Cr.P.C.
INITIAL STEPS IN THE TRIAL
[Sec.251] Substance of accusation to be stated
When the accused is brought before the Magistrate, particulars of offence which he is accused of shall be stated to him and he shall be asked whether he pleads guilty or has any defence to make. Hereby, in a summons case, it is not necessary to frame a formal charge.
It was laid down in a case that the purpose of this section is to apprise or inform him of the charges against him.1
The section mandates that there should be a clear statement made to him about:
- That he is about to be put on trial, and
- As to the offence or facts constituting the offence with the commission of which he is accused.
[Sec.252] Conviction on plea of guilty
If the accused pleads guilty, the Magistrate has to record the record the plea, as nearly as nearly as possible with the words used by the accused. It is hereby the discretion of the court to convict him thereon.
If there are a number of accused persons, the plea of each of the accused should be separately recorded & in his own words after the accusation was read over to each one of them. Where there are a number of accused persons and the accusation is used over them jointly & the Magistrate records their plea of admission jointly, such admission is bad in law.2
It is important that the terms of section are strictly complied with because the right of appeal of thee accused depends upon the circumstances whether he pleaded guilty or not, and it is for this reason that the legislature requires the exact words used by the accused in his plea of guilty should, as nearly as possible, be recorded in his own language in order to prevent any mistake or misapprehension.3
[Sec.253] Conviction on plea of guilty in absence of accused in petty cases
This section gives the discretionary power to the court for conviction of the accused in cases where:
- Summons issued under section 206
Accused pleads guilty without appearing in before Magistrate
Accused transmits the letter containing plea and the amount of fine.
- Pleader authorized by the accused pleads guilty
Magistrate records the pleas as nearly as possible to the words used by the pleader.
HEARING OF THE CASE/ PROCEDURE WHEN NOT CONVICTED
[Sec.254 (1)] Hearing
If the accused is not convicted under section 252 or 253, then the Magistrate has to proceed to hear the prosecution. ‘Hearing the Prosecution’ in the context of this provisions means that the Magistrate shall give audience to the parties and shall allow them to open their case by giving the facts and circumstances constituting the offence and stating evidences that proposes to prove its case.
[Sec.254 (2) & (3)] Evidence
The provision lays down the discretionary power to the Magistrate that he may, if he thinks fit:
- On an application of the prosecution or accused, issue summons to any witness.
- Before summoning the witness, get the reasonable expenses be deposited that are to be incurred for the purpose of attendance of the witness.
Opportunity to be heard and to serve evidence, both are a matter or right of both the parties and are practiced as a ritual in the court.
If the prosecution itself is unreliable, and cannot warrant itself conviction of the accused, the mere ritual of asking the accused formally whether he wants to be heard and produce his defence evidence need not be observed. Because that would not serve any useful purpose.4
ACQUITTAL OR CONVICTION
[Sec.255 (1)] Acquittal
If the Magistrate, after taking evidence, finds and gets satisfied in its opinion that the accused is not guilty, he has to record an order of Acquittal.
The Magistrate has no discretionary power to refuse to take the steps for attendance of the witness to whom the court had already issued summons as a prior occasion for their appearance.5
[Sec.255 (2)] Conviction and Sentence
If the accused is found guilty, the Magistrate shall pass sentence upon him according to law.
NOTE: However, considering the character of the offender, the nature of the offence the circumstances of the case, the judge may, instead of passing the sentence, decide to release the offender ON PROBATION of GOOD CONDUCT under section 360 or under the Probation of Offenders Act, 1958.
[Sec.255 (3)] Accused can be convicted of an offence not charged
The Magistrate may convict the accused of any offence triable under this chapter which, from the facts admitted or proved, he appears to have committed whatever may be the nature of complaint or summons.
NON – APPEARANCE OR WITHDRAWAL
The provisions of Section 256(1) states that where a complaint to a case is in-absentia i.e. has not been appeared on the date of hearing or any subsequent date of adjournment, the Magistrate:
- Shall acquit the accused, unless
- He thinks fit to adjourn the hearing to some other day for some reason
- May dispense complainant’s attendance if he is of the opinion that his attendance is not necessary.
- May allow it’s representation by a pleader or the officer conducting the prosecution
It is therefore a discretionary power granted to the Magistrate by the virtue of this section.
If the complainant is absent when the case is called out and when no reason is shown to the court for the absence of the complainant, naturally the court would presume that the complainant is absent because he does not wish to go on with the case, and accordingly an order of acquittal is made whatever the nature of the case may be.6
The Magistrate is expected to take stock of all the situation before he uses his discretion and decide the course to be followed. He should not view the absence of the complainant as a shortcut for disposal of the case.7
Reasons such as he fell ill or met with an accident or any other good reason might be acceptable.
The provision of section 256(2) states that sub-section (1) shall apply to cases where the non-appearance of the complainant is due to his death.
Supreme Court once upheld the acquittal of the accused where the representatives of dead complainant got absent for last 15 dates of hearing while defendant attended the court promptly.8
WITHDRAWAL OF COMPLAINT
This section enables the complainant to withdraw the complaint with the permission of the court. Where the Criminal case was initiated on a police report and not on a complaint, the Magistrate cannot acquit the accused on the application of the withdrawal made by a person at whose instance the police moved in the case.
The complainant has to satisfy the magistrate that there are sufficient grounds for withdrawal of the complaint. If the magistrate is not convinced, he can proceed with the trial.
POWER TO STOP PROCEEDINGS IN CERTAIN CASES
In a summons case instituted otherwise than upon a complaint, the court has been given a complainant, the court has been given a power to stop proceedings at any stage without pronouncing any judgement.
Although, in a case where the evidence of the principal witness has been recorded, the Magistrate before releasing the accused has to pronounce the Judgement of Acquittal.
Also, in both the cases, such release of the accused shall have the effect of discharge.
POWER OF COURT TO CONVERT SUMMONS CASES INTO WARRANT CASES
Magistrate should have the power to convert the summons case (relating to an offence punishable with imprisonment for a term exceeding 6 months) into warrant case and try it thereupon if he considers it necessary to do so in the interest of justice.
1 1972 CriLJ 1146
3 1966 AIR 22
4 1981 CriLJ 1469
5 AIR 1964 Pat 351
6 1974 CriLJ 68
7 1978 CriLJ 1376
8 (2008) 5 SCC 535
Author: Shivam Srivastava,
School of Law, IIMT