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The Supreme Court has reaffirmed that the power of the trial court under Section 319 of Code of Criminal Procedure (CrPC) to summon any person who has not been arraigned as an accused can be exercised at any stage during the trial.
However, the standard of proof for summoning a person as an accused under Section 319 CrPC is higher than the standard of proof employed for framing a charge against the accused person, the Court held.
The judgment was delivered by a Bench of Justices R Banumathi and AS Bopanna in an appeal against a judgment of the Allahabad High Court.
The High Court had affirmed the order passed by the trial court thereby declining to summon the second respondent Subhash Chandra Shukla under Section 319 CrPC.
The case was that Subhash Chandra Shukla along with other accused viz. Sashendra Shukla, Devender Shukla, Lakshmi Kant Shukla and Rahul Shukla formed themselves into an unlawful assembly and came to the house of the complainant and started abusing him due to old enmity.
The elder brothers of the complainant namely Sangam Lal Mishra and Sunil Kumar Mishra who were living in the opposite house came out and tried to forbid the accused from abusing. The accused Sashendra Shukla then fired a pistol in his hand with the intention to kill Sunil Kumar Mishra.
Other accused beat Sangam Lal Mishra with lathis while the second respondent is alleged to have strongly attacked the deceased Sangam Lal Mishra on his head with the butt of a pistol. Deceased Sangam Lal Mishra and Sunil Kumar Mishra sustained injuries and fell down. During treatment, Sangam Lal Mishra succumbed to injuries
Based on a complaint by Shiv Prakash Mishra, FIR was registered against five accused persons viz. Subhash Chandra Shukla, Sashendra Shukla, Rahul Shukla, Lakshmi Kant Shukla and Devender Shukla under Sections 147, 148, 149, 302, 307, 323 and 504 IPC.
As per the government order, the investigation of the case was transferred to CBCID which took up the investigation and examined persons. Eventually, chargesheet was filed only against three accused persons namely Sashendra Shukla, Devender Shukla and Laxmi Kant Shukla. Subsequently, upon further investigation, a supplementary charge sheet was filed against accused Rahul Shukla.
During the trial, an application was filed by Shiv Prakash Mishra under Section 319 CrPC to implead the second respondent, Subhash Chandra Shukla as an accused. The trial court dismissed the application observing that there are contradictions in the statement of Shiv Prakash Mishra (PW-1) and the statement of Anand Kumar Mishra (PW-2) regarding the role of the second respondent.
The trial court held that the presence of the proposed accused Subhash Chandra Shukla at the place of work at District Mirzapur has been verified and the same has also been corroborated with the statement of the complainant and presence of the second respondent in the scene of occurrence is highly doubtful.
The revision petition preferred by the complainant before the High Court was also dismissed on the ground that there are no materials on record to summon Subhash Chandra Shukla as an accused. This led to the appeal in Supreme Court.
The Supreme Court at the outset noted the scope of Section 319 of CrPC which empowers trial court to proceed against any person who has not been arraigned as accused in the case.
The provisions reads:
“319. Power to proceed against other persons appearing to be guilty of offence. – (1) Where, in the course of any inquiry into, or trial of, an offence, it appears from the evidence that any person not being the accused has committed any offence for which such person could be tried together with the accused, the Court may proceed against such person for the offence which he appears to have committed.”
It held that a bare reading of Section 319 made it clear that the power to proceed against any person under the said provision can be exercised at any stage during the trial if it appears from the evidence that such person has committed any offence for which such person could be tried along with the accused.
“By reading of Section 319 Cr.P.C., it is clear that the power under Section 319 Cr.P.C. can be exercised by the trial court at any stage during trial to summon any person as an accused to face the trial if it appears from the evidence that such person has committed any offence for which such person could be tried together with the accused.”
However, the Court also held that the standard of proof to summon such accused is higher than what is to be employed for framing a charge against the accused. Hence, the power has to be exercised sparingly.
“The standard of proof employed for summoning a person as an accused person under Section 319 Cr.P.C. is higher than the standard of proof employed for framing a charge against the accused person. The power under Section 319 Cr.P.C. should be exercised sparingly.”
In this regard, the Court placed reliance on the judgments in Kailash v. State of Rajasthan and another [(2008) 14 SCC 51] and Hardeep Singh v. State of Punjab and others [(2014) 3 SCC 92].
In the light of the above principles, the Court ruled that having regard to the contradictory statements of the witnesses and other circumstances, the trial court and the High Court had rightly held that Subhash Chandra Shukla cannot be summoned as an accused.
It, therefore, dismissed the appeal.
Recently, a Division Bench of the Supreme Court had referred to a larger Bench the issue concerning the power of the trial Court to summon additional co-accused in a case under Section 319 of CrPC after the verdict is pronounced.