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Section 216 of the CrPC gives exclusive and wide range of powers to the Trial Court in this regard, but the same should be used judiciously, the Supreme Court said.
The Supreme Court, in its judgment today, observed that the powers under Section 216 of the Code of Criminal Procedure (CrPC) empowers the Trial Court to add or alter charges even after the completion of trial before the pronouncement of judgment.
The Bench of Justices DY Chandrachud and Hrishikesh Roy held that from the precedents set by the Supreme Court in the past, it is clear that Section 216 of the CrPC gives exclusive and wide range of powers to the Trial Court even after the completion of evidence and arguments, and also after the judgment is reserved.
The Court, however, elucidates the circumstances under which the Court may add charges. The Court clarified that the addition or alteration of charge in a case can be done only if the Judge is of the opinion that there may have been an omission while framing of charges.
Additionally, if after examination of facts and records, the Court forms a presumption of existence of facts constituting an alleged offence, this power can be exercised. The charge to be brought in additionally should have a nexus with trial brought on record, the Court says.
This power under Section 216, however, must be exercised judiciously with with most care to ensure that no prejudice may be caused to the accused and without affecting fair trial, the Bench added. This factor of likely prejudice to be caused to an accused if an additional charge is brought against him, is the only constraint on the power of the Court, the judgment says. The Bench observed that Sub-section (4) of Section 216 prescribes the approach to be taken in this event, which reads as follows,
Section 216(4): If the alteration or addition is such that proceeding immediately with the trial is likely, in the opinion of the Court, to prejudice the accused or the prosecutor as aforesaid, the Court may either direct a new trial or adjourn the trial for such period as may be necessary.
In the instant case, the accused was charged under Section 498A of the Indian Penal Code along with some provisions of the Dowry Prohibition Act.
After the evidence and arguments had concluded, and judgment reserved, the Prosecution filed an application before the Court on the grounds that certain charges had not been framed against the accused even after the additional chargesheet implicated the accused for the same.
The Trial Court allowed the application and additional charges were framed against the accused. This decision was set aside by the High Court in a revision petition. In view of the observations above, the Supreme Court eventually set aside the High Court order and allowed the appeal, before directing that the trial court proceedings continue.