Courts must apply stringent tests while exercising jurisdiction under Section 319 CrPC, Supreme Court

Courts must apply stringent tests while exercising jurisdiction under Section 319 CrPC, Supreme Court

Shruti Mahajan

The Supreme Court has reaffirmed that courts, while exercising jurisdiction under Section 319 of the Code of Criminal Procedure (CrPC) to summon a person not shown as accused, must apply stringent tests.

Section 319 of CrPC empowers court to summon any person who is not shown as an accused if it appears from the evidence that the person has committed any offence. The apparent offence must be the one for which the person can be tried for along with the accused in the case.

The Supreme Court reiterated that it is a well-settled principle laid down by a Constitution Bench in the case of Hardeep Singh vs State of Punjab that the Courts before exercising this jurisdiction must be satisfied that the evidence adduced by the Prosecution, if not challenged, would lead to the conviction of the person sought to be summoned and added as accused.

While referring to the principle laid down by the Constitution Bench, the two-Judge Bench of Justices R Banumathi and R Subhash Reddy also highlighted that the power under Section 319 is discretionary and shall be used sparingly.

The Court was delivering its judgment in a case where the order of the summons against persons not named as accused in a chargesheet was challenged.

Facts of the Case

The appeal was filed against a judgment of the Allahabad High Court which had upheld the ruling of the Trial Court. The Trial Court had summoned the appellants under Section 319 of CrPc for the offence of Murder under Section 302 of Indian Penal Code (IPC).

The Appellants, though named in the First Information Report (FIR), were not named as accused in the Chargesheet since they stood exonerated by the Investigating Officer. The accused in the case was named by the victim in her dying declaration and the Appellants were named in the FIR by the complainant.

The FIR was registered against nine persons under various Sections of IPC and Dowry Prohibition Act, 1961.

During the trial, the prosecution moved an application seeking summoning of appellants and invoked the Court’s jurisdiction under Section 319 of Crpc. The appellants were sought to be added as accused under Section 302. The Trial Court allowed the application on the ground that prima facie evidence was available against the appellants. The Court placed reliance upon the FIR as well as the testimonies of two Prosecution witnesses.

This order was challenged by the Appellants who sought a revision of the same. The High Court dismissed the revision petition stating that on account of specific allegations against the appellants, the Trial Court’s order is not illegal or improper.

Aggrieved by the same, the Appellants approached the Supreme Court.

Supreme Court Judgment

The Supreme Court noted the position with respect to Section 319 as settled in various cases. The fairly “well-settled” position in this regard requires that,

“before the court exercises its jurisdiction in terms of Section 319 Cr.P.C., it must arrive at satisfaction that the evidence adduced by the prosecution, if unrebutted, would lead to conviction of the persons sought to be added as the accused in the case.”

Reliance was placed on the judgments in Hardeep Singh v. State of Punjab and Others [(2014) 3 SCC 92] and Sarabjit Singh and Another v. State of Punjab and Another [(2009) 16 SCC 46].

In Hardeep Singh, it was held that the power under Section 319 CrPC is a discretionary and extraordinary power. It is to be exercised sparingly and only in those cases where the circumstances of the case so warrant. It is not to be exercised because the Magistrate or the Sessions Judge is of the opinion that some other person may also be guilty of committing that offence. Such power should be exercised only where strong and cogent evidence occurs against a person from the evidence led before the court. It should not be exercised in a casual and cavalier manner.

Applying the standards laid down above to the instant case, the Court concluded that there was no prima facie case made out against the appellants to summon them. The Court further added that the power under Section 319 specifies that while a person can be summoned for “any offence”, the offence should be one for which he/she can be tried for along with the main accused.

The main accused in this case was charged under Section 302 of the IPC and the evidence presented to the Court against the appellants did not make out a prima facie case under this Section, the Court held.

The Court, therefore, set aside the order of the High Court.

Read the Judgment:

Bar and Bench - Indian Legal news