Can Additional Accused be summoned under Section 319 CrPC after pronouncement of verdict? Larger Bench of SC to decide

Shruti Mahajan May 11 2019
section 319

A Division Bench of the Supreme Court has referred to a larger Bench the issue concerning the power of the trial Court to summon additional co-accused in a case under Section 319 of the Code of Criminal Procedure (CrPC) after the verdict is pronounced.

Section 319 of the CrPC deals with the Power of a Court to proceed against other persons appearing to be guilty of an offence, essentially the co-accused persons. The Bench of Justices NV Ramana and Mohan M Shantanagoudar has referred three questions of law arising in interpretation of Section 319 of the CrPC to a larger Bench. The questions are:

  • Whether the trial court has the power under Section 319 of CrPC for summoning additional accused when the trial with respect to other co­accused has ended and the judgment of conviction rendered on the same date before pronouncing the summoning order?
  • Whether the trial court has the power under Section 319 of the CrPC for summoning additional accused when the trial in respect of certain other absconding accused (whose presence is subsequently secured) is ongoing/pending, having been bifurcated from the main trial?
  • What are the guidelines that the competent court must follow while exercising power under Section 319 Cr.P.C?

These questions arose in an appeal filed by former Aam Aadmi Party leader in Punjab, Sukjpal Singh Khaira who had approached the Supreme Court against the verdict of the Punjab and Haryana High Court. Singh had been summoned by the trial court in a case under the Narcotic Drugs and Psychotropic Substances Act (NDPS Act) in a separate order from the one that convicted the other accused persons. Singh challenged the same before the High Court which dismissed his plea. This led to the appeal in Supreme Court.

Singh submitted that the principles laid down in the Hardeep Singh judgment stipulate that the Court may issue summons to co-accused during the trial or investigation. In this case, however, the summons was issued after the conviction of the other accused persons which is in breach of the Hardeep Singh case.

The High Court’s decision was assailed mainly on the aspect of the stage of the trial at which additional summons to co-accused can be issued under Section 319 of the CrPC. The judgment, in this regard, notes,

“It was contended that the question of law herein is unique to the present case, and the earlier judgment of Hardeep Singh  (supra) did not have an opportunity to cast any light about the validity of summoning orders pronounced after the passing of the judgment.”

Noting the extraordinary nature of the provision and the gaps in its interpretation that need to be filled, the Court referred the question to a larger Bench but with a parting note for trial courts:

“We are of the considered opinion that, power under Section 319, Cr.P.C being extraordinary in nature, the trial courts should be cautious while summoning accused to avoid complexities and to ensure fair trial. We must remind ourselves that, timely disposal of the matters furthers the interest of justice.”

[Read Judgment]

Sukhpal Singh Khaira vs Punjab
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