In Re: To Issue Certain Guidelines Regarding Inadequacies and Deficiencies in Criminal Trials, the CJI Bobde led three-judge bench issued an order to implement the Draft Criminal Rules on Practice, 2021. The bench of CJI Bobde, J Nageswara Rao and J Ravindra Bhat passed the order on 20 April 2021. And directed the High Courts and State Governments to make the necessary changes within six months.
The Court was hearing a criminal appeal involving the death of a political worker in 2016. Amidst these proceedings, the Court took suo moto cognisance to address common deficiencies in criminal trials. The bench noticed a lack of uniformity across States on how criminal trials are conducted. While some High Courts had rules, most did not. They issued notice to all High Courts and State governments, asking for submissions on the matter. Three amici curiae, or ‘friends of the court’ were appointed: Senior Advocates Sidharth Luthra and R Basanth and Advocate K Parameshwar. Taking the advice of the various stakeholders they produced the Draft Rules.
Besides this, the case also overruled Bipin Shantilal Panchal v. State of Gujarat. The decision in that case had held that objections to admission of evidence should not be ruled on immediately. It should be decided at the end of the trial. The reasoning was that the evidence remains on the record for appellate courts to consider and allows the trial to move quickly without interruption.
The Chief Justice’s bench disagreed. If the objectionable evidence remained on record, it would clutter the record and lead the trial down the wrong path. This would cause further delay. Allowing it could also prejudice the accused. The bench held that objections should be decided immediately or after testimony in the case of a witness.
In the interest of expeditious trials, the bench approved Rule 19. This requires hearings to take place on a day-to-day basis. The trial court can conduct a preliminary case management hearing. Here, a schedule can be drawn to ensure that witnesses, the defence and the prosecution are all present. If all parties are present, then the hearing should not be postponed or adjourned. The Rules also requires criminal matters to be heard on priority over other matters.
The order also noted that the accused is not always provided with all materials. They only have access to material the prosecution relies on. This prevents them from relying on materials that may be to their benefit. Rule 4 ensures that the accused will be supplied with these materials.
Source: Still from the movie 'Court' directed by Chaitanya Tamhane
Some of the other crucial rules appended to the order include:
• If a death occurs in police custody or due to police action, photos/videos must be taken for the post-mortem and produced during trial.
• The post mortem report shall contain a sketch of the human body.
• A site plan with specified details should be produced.
• Evidence from witnesses should be recorded in typed format, where possible and translated to English.
• The uniform method of numbering witnesses, accused and pieces of evidence in the Rules must be followed. Statements outside of court must also be extracted for reference in the record when brought up in the trial.
• All judgments should follow the prescribed uniform format, written in numbered paragraphs. It must contain the points for determination, the decision and the reasons for the decision.
• Bail applications should be ideally disposed of in 3 to 7 days.
• Advocates who advise the investigating officer should be separate from the public prosecutor.
These reforms come as the Ministry of Home Affairs is also considering reform of the Criminal Justice System. The Committee for Reforms in Criminal Laws is currently preparing its report. Its scope, however, is wider and extends beyond procedural reform.