"The chief problem in any community cursed with crime is not the punishment of the criminals, but the prevention of the young from being trained to crime."
- W.E. B. Du Bois
As of 2018, a total of 50,74,634 cognizable crimes comprising 31,32,954 Indian Penal Code (IPC) crimes and 19,41,680 Special & Local Laws (SLL) crimes were registered nationwide. They are all primarily governed by 3 Acts:
The Code of Criminal Procedure, 1973 (Cr.P.C.)
The Indian Penal Code, 1960 (IPC)
The Indian Evidence Act, 1872 (IEA)
IPC and CrPC are together known as “twin sisters” of criminal law.
A criminal trial is a formal examination and scrutiny of the facts and evidence of a case by a judge, mostly in the presence of a jury, to decide if a crime has been committed or not; and if committed, to hold the accused guilty and award a sentence. The burden is on the prosecution (State) to prove “beyond a reasonable doubt” that the accused, who is the defendant, is guilty of committing the crime in question.
Such trials are divided into:
Warrant Cases, concerned with offences punishable with death, life imprisonment or a term exceeding seven years;
Summon Cases, concerned with offences punishable a term of fewer than two years; and
Summary Trials, concerned with offences punishable a term of fewer than six months.
The pre-trial phase consists of reporting the crime, where a First Information Report (FIR) is filed against the accused in a police station or a complaint is lodged with the Magistrate. An investigation is conducted by an investigating officer, during the course of which, the accused can be arrested. Finally, a police report (Closure report or Chargesheet) is submitted, or the case is committed to a Sessions Court by the Magistrate.
If a warrant against the accused has not been issued after the lodging of either an FIR or a complaint, they can apply for bail before the Sessions or the High Court. In case of absence of substance in the complaint or FIR, they can file for quashing of the FIR and may ask the court to put a stay on the proceedings.
After the charges are framed, the accused is given a chance to plead guilty, in self-realization, which might lead to a lenient or reduced sentence.
And finally, if the accused does not plead guilty, the case is forwarded into a criminal trial. The actual trials usually take a course of the following four phases:
First comes the opening statement or “first dialogue” from prosecution, which is usually more detailed owing to the burden of proof. The prosecution's point of view portrays facts and events relating to the case. Next, the defence puts forward their side of the story, usually refuting and rebutting the posed allegations.
Witness testimony and cross-examination
“Case-in-chief” lies at the heart of criminal trials. This is a stage where both sides present their key evidence to strengthen their cases. Eyewitnesses and experts, photographs, videotapes, camera recordings, voice clips, documents and medical reports, etc., are presented and questioned.
Once both the sides have put forth all their evidence, they “rest their case,” indicating that no more evidence will further be provided.
Closing arguments give a chance to both the sides for summing up their respective cases, highlighting evidence and re-asserting their claims and positions.
Judgment and verdict
After carefully scrutinizing the arguments of both the sides, the Judge decides whether or not to hold the accused guilty. If convicted, the judge pronounces a sentence at the sole discretion and both the sides cannot argue over it. However, both the defence and prosecution hold the right to appeal, depending on the verdict.
Criminal trials have the sole purpose of delivering justice. The essence of conducting them is giving both the sides a fair chance to prove their points. In utopia, criminal trials hold the immense power and onus of discouraging and even eradicating crimes from society.
But the Indian criminal justice system is increasingly reflecting the idea of “power” over justice. Winston Churchill said that the mood and temper of the public regarding the treatment of crime and criminals is one of the most unfailing tests of the civilization of any country. We, as Indians, continue to follow a culture of control and a tendency to govern through crime. This has to lead to the police becoming the judges and media behaving like a court