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In a bid to reduce the physical presence of persons in court precincts, the Karnataka High Court yesterday held that recording the examination of an accused under Section 313 of Code of Criminal Procedure (CrPC) shall be done via video conferencing.
The order was passed in a suo motu PIL registered by the Karnataka High Court seeking to address the various legal and technical issues posed by the COVID-19 pandemic that may arise before the district and trial courts from June 1.
The order passed by a Bench headed by Chief Justice Abhay Shreeniwas Oka reads,
Karnataka High Court
On the point of framing of charge, the Court noted that as far as the trial before the Court of Sessions and trial in warrant triable cases are concerned, the provisions of CrPC made it very clear that the charge framed by the judge has to be read over and explained to the accused.
It was further observed that when the accused does not plead guilty, in all other contingencies, both in Sessions triable cases and warrant triable cases, a date for recording of evidence is required to be fixed.
In summons triable cases, though it is not necessary to frame a charge, the particulars of the offence alleged shall be stated to the accused and he shall be asked whether he pleads guilty or whether he has a defence to the same, the High Court noted.
"Thus, it follows that in case of all three categories of trials, plea of the accused is required to be recorded.....It means that for recording plea, the presence of the accused before the Court is necessary. Now, the question is whether such presence can be procured through Video Conferencing."
Referring to the case of State of Maharashtra v. Dr. Praful B. Desai and Karnataka High Court Video Conferencing Rules, the Court observed the framing of the charge of an accused can be done via conferencing.
The Court further explained that though there is no specific provision in CrPC, the general practice followed by various courts is to take the signature of the accused on the plea.
This can be done "if a copy of the charge framed and plea recorded thereon can be sent by e-mail to the coordinator who will be an officer of the concerned prison. He can be directed to download the same, take print and obtain the signature of the accused in his presence and send it to the Court", the Bench clarified.
The same procedure may be done in case of an accused on bail.
Further, the Court added,
"While recording the plea, the Judicial Officer will be well advised to record a statement of the accused that the Judge was clearly audible and visible to him while the charge was read over and explained to him and while his plea was recorded."
On the second issue, the examination of the accused under Clause (b) of sub-section (1) of Section 313 CrPC, the Bench held,
Karnataka High Court
This apart, the Court further added that another option available was of recording the statement by procuring the presence of the accused by video conference hearing.
The Bench made it clear that before recording the statement and while recording the statement, the concerned judge may ask the accused to ascertain whether he is clearly audible and whether the accused understood the questions posed to him.
While passing the order, reliance was also placed on the directions passed by the Supreme Court in (In Re: Guidelines for Courts functioning through Video Conferencing during COVID 19 pandemic) and (In Re: Contagion of Covid 19 Virus in Prisons).