Summoning New Accused #1: Does the Trial Judge’s Mandate Ends When The Judgment Is Pronounced?Summoning New Accused After the Judgment is Delivered
Judges: Abdul Nazeer J, B.R. Gavai J, A.S. Bopanna J, V Ramasubramanian J, B.V. Nagarathna J
On November 15th, 2022, Senior Advocate Paramjit Singh Patwalia, appearing for Punjab Congress leader Sukhpal Singh Khaira, argued that a Trial Court cannot summon an additional accused in a case after pronouncing the Judgment. He contended that the provisions of Section 319 of Criminal Procedure Code, 1973 (the Code), which allows Courts to summon new accused in a trial, will apply only till the conclusion of the arguments in the main trial.
The case originated in March 2015 when a First Information Report (FIR) was filed against 11 persons under the Narcotic Drugs and Psychotropic Substances Act (NDPS Act), 1985 the Arms Act ,1959 and the Information Technology Act, 2000. Mr. Sukhpal Singh Khaira, then the Opposition Leader in the Pubjab Legislative Assembly, was not originally part of the resultant trial. However, the trial Court, after delivering its Judgment in the case, summoned Mr. Khaira and four others for investigation in the same case.
The Trial Court convicted nine of the accused persons and acquitted two others on October 31st, 2017. On the same day the Judgment was pronounced, the Trial Court accepted an application filed by the government under Section 319 and summoned five additional persons, including Mr. Khaira, to face trial as additional accused.
Mr. Khaira challenged the summoning Order at the Punjab and Haryana High Court in November 2017. The High Court quashed the non-bailable warrants issued against Khaira. However, the High Court refused to set aside the Order of the Trial Court naming him as an additional accused.
Subsequently, Mr. Khaira challenged the summoning Order at the Supreme Court in 2019. In 2019, a three Judge Bench of the Supreme Court referred the questions on the interpretation of Section 319 to a Constitution Bench.
Issues in Focus Today
- Can a Trial Court summon a new accused under Section 319 of the Criminal Procedure Code after the trial has ended?
- If proceedings in a trial have been separated between physically present and absconding accused persons, can a new accused be summoned in the second set of proceedings when the first has concluded?
- What guidelines must Courts follow while summoning a new accused under Section 319 of the Code?
Sr. Adv Patwalia: Trial Judge Cannot Summon New Accused Once the Judgment Is Pronounced
Detailing the facts of the case, Mr. Patwalia, arguing for the petitioner, stated that Mr. Khaira came from a political family in Punjab and was instrumental in exposing some scams. The Bench, however, urged Mr. Patwalia not to argue on the facts of the case, but to address the issue pertaining to the power of a Judge under Section 319 of Criminal Procedure Code, 1973.
Mr. Patwali claimed that Section 319 of the Code drew a distinction between the conclusion of a trial ie. till evidence is adduced and the delivery of a Judgment, ie. after arguments conclude. The Bench questioned if the Trial Court had reserved Judgment in the trial and passed the Judgment on the same day. Mr. Patwalia responded that the Trial Court had not reserved Judgment at all.
He argued that the Supreme Court has already laid down guidelines to deal with Section 319 of the Code in Hardeep Singh v State of Punjab (2014) . Once a Judgment has been pronounced, Section 319 is not applicable. He stated that the mandate of the Trial Court Judge ends when he pronounces a Judgment in relation to the accused before him. Mr. Patwalia argued the Trial Judge cannot adjudicate furthermore on a case after the Judgment is pronounced.
Mr. Patwalia highlighted the words ‘ in the course of any inquiry into, or trial of, an offence’ in Section 319. According to him, an inquiry comes to an end when the Judgment is pronounced.
The Court will continue hearing Mr. Patwalia on November 16th. The Court is expected to hear the arguments from Sr. Adv Nagamuthu, the Amicus Curiae in the case, and the Advocate General for Punjab Vinod Ghai on the same day.