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EDITORIAL ANALYSIS : Charge sheet scrutiny is not a case of prying eyes

 

Source: The Hindu

  • Prelims: Supreme Court, collegium system, NJAC, CJI, Live telecasting etc
  • Mains GS Paper I and II: Structure, organization and functioning of judiciary, Issues with the collegium system etc

ARTICLE HIGHLIGHTS

  • The supreme court of India agreed to the live telecast of some of its hearings — bringing more openness in judicial proceedings.

 

INSIGHTS ON THE ISSUE

Context

Chargesheet:

  • Under Section 173 CrPC: It is the final report prepared by a police officer or investigative agency after completing their investigation of a case.
  • A charge sheet must be filed against the accused within a prescribed period of 60-90 days, otherwise, the arrest is illegal, and the accused is entitled to bail.

 

Charge Sheet Should Contain:

  • Details of names, the nature of the information, and offenses.
  • Whether the accused is under arrest, in custody, or has been released
  • whether any action was taken against him

 

Procedure after Filing the Chargesheet:

  • After preparing the chargesheet, the officer-in-charge of the police station forwards it to a Magistrate, who is empowered to take notice of the offenses mentioned in it so that the charges can be framed.

 

In the K Veeraswami vs Union of India & Others (1991) case:

  • SC ruled that the chargesheet is a final report of the police officer under section 173(2) of the CrPC.

 

Recent steps by Supreme Court;

  • Chief Justice of India: Judgments will now be translated in four languages (Hindi, Gujarati, Odia and Tamil, as “the English language in its ‘legal avatar’ is not comprehensible to 99.9% of the citizens”)
  • The Supreme Court pronouncement on charge sheets:
    • Charge sheet filed against an accused in a criminal case is not a ‘public document’ within the meaning of the Right to Information Act 2005 or the Indian Evidence Act.
    • The order was passed while disposing of a petition filed by a public interest litigant activist and journalist.

 

Concerns:

  • Setback for greater transparency in the criminal justice administration
  • Implications for investigating officials and victims of crime are concerned.

 

Contradicting an earlier order:

  • Youth Bar Association of India vs Union of India (2016): It directed that the First Information Report (FIR) in any case should be on the relevant investigating agency’s website within 24 hours of its registration.

 

Court’s view:

  • The charge sheet (i.e., the Final Report specified by the Code of Criminal Procedure 1973) is different from the FIR, and hence cannot be shared with anyone other than the accused and the victim.
  • A charge sheet was a comprehensive account of the crime in question and had vital information such as a list of prosecution witnesses and documents in support of the investigating officer’s conclusions.
  • Any action to part contained in these documents even before a trial begins would be detrimental to the accused and the victim.
  • Open publicity of what is contained in the final report is not within the scheme contemplated by the Code of Criminal Procedure.

 

What is a FIR?

  • It is a report of information that reaches the police first at that point of time and that is why it is called the First Information Report.
  • It is a complaint lodged with the police by the victim of a cognizable offense or by someone on his/her behalf.
  • Anyone can report the commission of a cognizable offense either orally or in writing.

 

Way Forward

  • The Supreme Court’s decision to keep charge sheets away from public knowledge could be disapproved by those who are constantly pushing to expand the frontiers of judicial reticence.
    • Sharing a charge sheet with the public on demand is very much in order.
  • While it need not necessarily be posted on the website of the court concerned, public interest dictates a positive response to a request to peruse its contents.
  • There is no reason to prevent members of the public from wanting to have a look at the charge sheet before commencement of the trial and be denied an opportunity to evaluate the quality of an investigation.
  • The prospect of critical analysis by a rank outsider has the potential to enhance the soundness of an investigation and prevent tendentious prosecution against innocent individuals not based on facts.
  • A trial court will actually benefit from outsider scrutiny of the prosecution case if a charge sheet is made available to the lay public.
  • The Supreme Court’s order is a wake-up call to all investigating agencies, including the Central Bureau of Investigation, which have often been assailed by courts for delays in filing a charge sheet or for the poor quality of investigation.
  • Court scrutiny is a good feature in India’s criminal justice system that reasonably ensures that false prosecution of an innocent individual is only an aberration and not a rule.
  • It will only ensure that prospects of loosely framed charge sheets will be fewer in number.

 

QUESTION FOR PRACTICE

Critically examine the Supreme Court’s judgment on ‘National Judicial Appointments Commission Act, 2014’ with reference to appointment of judges of higher judiciary in India.(UPSC 2017) (200 WORDS, 10 MARKS)