Criminal Trial must be conducted on day to day basis

Adjournment in Criminal Trial not permissible.

Section 309 o Cr. P.C. is as under:

Power to postpone or adjourn proceedings.
(1) In every inquiry or trial, the proceedings shall be held as expeditiously as possible, and in particular, when the examination of witnesses has once begun, the same shall be continued from day to day until all the witnesses in attendance have been examined, unless the Court finds the adjournment of the same beyond the following day to be necessary for reasons to be recorded.
(2) If the Court, after taking cognizance of an offence, or commencement of trial, finds it necessary or advisable to postpone the commencement of, or adjourn, any inquiry or trial, it may, from time to time, for reasons to be recorded, postpone or adjourn the same on such terms as it thinks fit, for such time as it considers reasonable, and may by a warrant remand the accused if in custody:

Provided that no Magistrate shall remand an accused person to custody under this section for a term exceeding fifteen days at a time: Provided further that when witnesses are in attendance, no adjournment or postponement shall be granted, without examining them, except for special reasons to be recorded in writing:

Provided also that no adjournment shall be granted for the purpose only of enabling the accused person to show cause against the sentence proposed to be imposed on him.]

Explanation 1.- If sufficient evidence has been obtained to raise a suspicion that the accused may have committed an offence, and it appears likely that further evidence may be obtained by a remand, this is a reasonable cause for a remand.

Explanation 2.- The terms on which an adjournment or postponement may be granted include, in appropriate cases, the payment of costs by the prosecution or the accused.

Mandate of day to day trial

12. Thus, the legal position is that once examination of witnesses started, the court has to continue the trial from day to day until all witnesses in attendance have been examined (except those whom the party has given up). The court has to record reasons for deviating from the said course. Even that is forbidden when witnesses are present in court, as the requirement then is that the court has to examine them. Only if there are “special reasons”, which reasons should find a place in the order for adjournment, that alone can confer jurisdiction on the court to adjourn the case without examination of witnesses who are present in court.

13. Now, we are distressed to note that it is almost a common practice and regular occurrence that trial courts flout the said command with impunity. Even when witnesses are present, cases are adjourned on far less serious reasons or even on flippant grounds. Adjournments are granted even in such situations on the mere asking for it. Quite often such adjournments are granted to suit the convenience of the advocate concerned. We make it clear that the legislature has frowned at granting adjournments on that ground. At any rate inconvenience of an advocate is not a “special reason” for bypassing the mandate of Section 309 of the Code.

14. If any court finds that the day-to-day examination of witnesses mandated by the legislature cannot be complied with due to the non-cooperation of the accused or his counsel the court can adopt any of the measures indicated in the sub-section i.e. remanding the accused to custody or imposing cost on the party who wants such adjournments (the cost must be commensurate with the loss suffered by the witnesses, including the expenses to attend the court). Another option is, when the accused is absent and the witness is present to be examined, the court can cancel his bail, if he is on bail (unless an application is made on his behalf seeking permission for his counsel to proceed to examine the witnesses present even in his absence provided the accused gives an undertaking in writing that he would not dispute his identity as the particular accused in the case).

15. The time-frame suggested by a three-Judge Bench of this Court in Raj Deo Sharma v. State of Bihar, (1998) 7 scc 507 at p. 516, para 16) is partly in consideration of the legislative mandate contained in Section 309(1) of the Code. This is what the Bench said on that score:

“16.The Code of Criminal Procedure is comprehensive enough to enable the Magistrate to close the prosecution if   is unable to produce its witnesses in spite of repeated opportunities. Section 309(1) CrPC supports the above view as it enjoins expeditious holding of the proceedings and continuous examination of witnesses from day to day. The section also provides for recording reasons for adjourning the case beyond the following day.” xxx xxx xxx

17. We believe, hopefully, that the High Courts would have issued the circular desired by the Apex Court as per the said judgment. If the insistence made by Parliament through Section 309 of the Code can be adhered to by the trial courts there is every chance of the parties cooperating with the courts for achieving the desired objects and it would relieve the agony which witnesses summoned are now suffering on account of their non-examination for days.

xxx xxx xxx

19. In some States a system is evolved for framing a schedule of consecutive working days for examination of witnesses in each sessions trial to be followed. Such schedule is fixed by the court well in advance after ascertaining the convenience of the counsel on both sides. Summons or process would then be handed over to the Public Prosecutor in charge of the case to cause them to be served on the witnesses. Once the schedule is so fixed and witnesses are summoned the trial invariably proceeds from day to day. This is one method of complying with the mandates of the law. It is for the presiding officer of each court to chalk out any other methods, if any, found better for complying with the legal provisions contained in Section 309 of the Code. Of course, the High Court can monitor, supervise and give directions, on the administration side, regarding measures to conform to the legislative insistence contained in the above section.”

[Source: State of U.P. versus Shambhu Nath Singh, 1 (2001) 4 SCC 667]

Supreme Court directions in 2017:

To conclude:

(i) The trial courts must carry out the mandate of Section 309 of the Cr.P.C. as reiterated in judgments of this Court, inter alia, in State of U.P. versus Shambhu Nath Singh, (2001) 4 SCC 667), Mohd. Khalid versus State of W.B., (2002)7 SCC 334 and Vinod Kumar versus State of Punjab, (2015)3 SCC 220 .

(ii) The eye-witnesses must be examined by the prosecution as soon as possible.

(iii) Statements of eye-witnesses should invariably be recorded under Section 164 of the Cr.P.C. as per procedure prescribed thereunder.

The High Courts may issue appropriate directions to the trial courts for compliance of the above.

[Source: Doongar Singh vs The State Of Rajasthan, decided by SC on 28 November, 2017]

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