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SC: Stronger Evidence is Required to Invoke Section 319 of CrPC

Section 319 of crpc

In a recent judgment of Sugreev Kumar v. the State of Punjab, a bench comprising of Justice Dinesh Maheshwari and Abhay Mohan Sapre has said that to invoke section 319 of CrPC stronger evidence is required than a mere probability of involvement. The bench was hearing the matter in appeal arising out of Punjab and Haryana High Court order dated 2 Feb 2018 in Cri. Revision Application No. 2626/2014 whereby High Court has upheld the order of Additional Sessions Judge, Fazilka.

Facts of the Case

The appellant on 29. 08. 13, accompanied by his father, brother and other associates, has gone to reclaim possession of their land from the erstwhile tenants in compliance with the directions issued by the Court of Assistant Collector Grade-I. There they were attacked by the tenants which resulted in the death of the appellant's father and brother, injuries to others. After the Incident FIR was filed against the 11 persons but later on after investigation only three persons were charge-sheeted. In an order dated 24.07.14 trial court summoned one of the accused by invoking its power under section 319 of CrPC. The decision of the trial court was challenged before the Punjab and Haryana High Court which was dismissed by the order dated 2.07.18. The matter finally listed before the supreme court for hearing and giving directions to the trial court.

What is Section 319 of CrPC?

Section 319 of CrPC deals with the power of the court to proceed against that person who appears to be guilty of an offence, that person can be summoned by the court for fresh trial. The main aim of this provision is that real culprits should not get away without punishment. In this case, the court said that Court is empowered to proceed against any person not shown as an accused, if it appears from the evidence that such person has committed any offense for which, he could be tried together with the other accused persons.

Court’s observation in the current case

In the instant case, the court has said that courts while invoking section 319 of CrPC, should not proceed as if an infallible case is required to be shown by the prosecution in order to proceed against the proposed accused persons. Court has also explained the test to be followed while invoking section 319 of CrPC. It reads:
"The provisions contained in Section 319 CrPC sanction the summoning of any person on the basis of any relevant evidence as available on record. However, it being a discretionary power and an extraordinary one, is to be exercised sparingly and only when cogent evidence is available. The prime facie opinion which is to be formed for the exercise of this power requires stronger evidence than the mere probability of complicity of a person. The test to be applied is the one which is more than a prime facie case as examined at the time of framing charge but not of satisfaction to the extent that the evidence if goes uncontroverted, would lead to the conviction of the accused." 

Court has set aside the Punjab and Haryana High Court order and directed the trial court to reconsider the prayer of prosecution for proceeding against the proposed accused person afresh and the court also said that it is made clear that we have not pronounced on the merits of the case.

Conclusion and Case Comment

The court was quick in observing that section 319 of CrPC is a discretionary power and hence, it must be exercised sparingly and only in those cases where it appears that stronger evidence is there to suggest that it is in the interest of justice to invoke the said section. In the current case, the court has also relied upon the previous judgment of the honorable Supreme Court and explained them with a fresh view in order to reach the conclusion.

At last, we can say that this was a balanced judgment and the supreme court has only opined on the aspect of section 319 of CrPC and made it clear that it is the trial court that will decide on the merit of the case.

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by Pankaj Kumar Shukla

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