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Last Updated : May 10, 2019 08:14 PM IST | Source: PTI

SC refers to larger bench issue of summoning additional accused after pronouncing verdict

The three issued framed by the bench include, whether the trial court has the power under section 319 of CrPC for summoning additional accused when trial with respect to other co-­accused has ended and the verdict of conviction rendered on the same date before pronouncing the summoning order.

The Supreme Court May 10 referred to a larger bench the issue of whether a lower court has the power to summon additional accused even after having decided a criminal case against the others involved.

A bench of Justices N V Ramana and Mohan M Shantanagoudar framed three questions of law on the scope and ambit of section 319 (power to proceed against other persons appearing to be guilty of offence) of CrPC and referred the matter to the registry to place it before the Chief Justice of India for constituting a larger bench to adjudicate these issues.

The three issued framed by the bench include, whether the trial court has the power under section 319 of CrPC for summoning additional accused when trial with respect to other co-­accused has ended and the verdict of conviction rendered on the same date before pronouncing the summoning order.

In its verdict, the court said the larger bench would also decide "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?"

It would also decide what are the guidelines that the competent court must follow while exercising power under section 319 CrPC.

The apex court's verdict came while dealing with a plea filed by former AAP leader and the then Leader of Opposition of Punjab Sukhpal Singh Khaira challenging the Punjab and Haryana High Court verdict which had dismissed his plea to quash summons in a 2015 trans-border drug smuggling case.

A court in Fazilka, Punjab had issued summons to Khaira to appear before it in the case. The Supreme Court had in December 2017, stayed the trial court's proceedings.

The apex court, while referring the matter to a larger bench, said it was of the view that power under section 319 CrPC 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," it added.

The bench also said it needs to be determined whether the trial is said to be fully concluded even if the bifurcated trial in respect of the absconded accused is still pending consideration.

In Khaira's matter, while the trial was going on against 10 accused in the narcotics case, the prosecution had filed an application for summoning five additional accused, including him.

On October 31, 2017, the sessions court first pronounced its verdict convicting the nine accused put on trial and on the same day, it also allowed the prosecution application for summoning additional accused in the case.

Khaira had challenged the summoning order before the high court which dismissed the plea after which he approached the Supreme Court.

His counsel argued in the apex court that the power under section 319(1) CrPC can be exercised at any time after filing of the charge sheet and before the pronouncement of the judgement.

He submitted that in this case, the summoning order passed after the order of conviction is in clear breach of the principles laid down in a previous verdict by the apex court.

The counsel contended that the moment the trial is concluded and the matter reserved for judgement, then the stage for exercising power under Section 319 CrPC, ends and the court becomes 'functus officio' (of no further official authority or legal effect).

The counsel for Punjab submitted that the application for summoning additional accused was filed and heard during the pendency of the trial, and the order was thereafter reserved.

In the drugs case, others who were issued summons were Khaira's personal security officer (PSO) Joga Singh, personal assistant Manish, Charanjit Kaur, a resident of Bath village (Jalandhar), and Major Singh Bajwa of Bajwa Kalan village (Jalandhar).

The Fazilka court had on October 31, 2017, sentenced nine persons to imprisonment in the trans-border heroin smuggling racket which had surfaced in 2015.

Those convicted were arrested by the police on March 9, 2015, along with 2 kgs of heroin, 24 gold biscuits, a country-made pistol, two Pakistani SIM cards and SUV vehicle.
First Published on May 10, 2019 08:08 pm
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