Section 319 Cr.P.C. springs out of the doctrine judex damnatur cum nocens absolvitur (Judge is condemned when guilty is acquitted) and this doctrine is used as a beacon light while explaining the ambit and the spirit underlying the enactment of Section 319 Cr.P.C.

It is the duty of the Court to do justice by punishing the real culprit. Where the investigating agency for any reason does not array one of the real culprits as an accused, the court is not powerless in calling the said accused to face trial.

The Provision

Section 319 Cr.P.C. is quoted hereunder:

319 Cr.P.C. -Power to proceed against other persons appearing to be guilty of offence.-

(1) Where, in the course of any inquiry into, or trial of, an offence, it appears from the evidence that any person not being the accused has committed any offence for which such person could be tried together with the accused, the Court may proceed against such person for the offence which he appears to have committed.

(2) Where such person is not attending the Court, he may be arrested or summoned, as the circumstances of the case may require, for the purpose aforesaid.

(3) Any person attending the Court, although not under arrest or upon a summons, may be detained by such Court for the purpose of the inquiry into, or trial of, the offence which he appears to have committed.

(4) Where the Court proceeds against any person under sub- section (1), then-

(a) the proceedings in respect of such person shall be commenced afresh, and the witnesses re-heard;

(b) subject to the provisions of clause (a), the case may proceed as if such person had been an accused person when the Court took cognizance of the offence upon which the inquiry or trial was commenced.”

The object to insert the provision

For the empowerment of the courts to ensure that the criminal administration of justice works properly, the law was appropriately codified and modified by the legislature under the Cr.P.C. indicating as to how the courts should proceed in order to ultimately find out the truth so that an innocent does not get punished but at the same time, the guilty are brought to book under the law.

The Power under Section 319

Section 319 Cr.P.C. allows the court to proceed against any person who is not an accused in a case before it. Thus, the person against whom summons are issued in exercise of such powers, has to necessarily not be an accused already facing trial. He can either be a person named in Column 2 of the chargesheet filed under Section 173 Cr.P.C. or a person whose name has been disclosed in any material before the court that is to be considered for the purpose of trying the offence, but not investigated. He has to be a person whose complicity may be indicated and connected with the commission of the offence.

The stage at which power under section 319 CrPC can be exercised

In Raj Kishore Prasad v. State of Bihar & Anr. AIR 1996 SC 1931, in order to avoid any delay in trial, the court emphasised that such a power should be exercised keeping in view the context in which the words “inquiry” and “trial” have been used under Section 319 Cr.P.C. and came to the conclusion that such a power is not available at the pre-trial stage and should be invoked only at the stage of inquiry or after evidence is recorded.

A two-Judge Bench of Supreme Court in M/s. SWIL Ltd. v. State of Delhi & Anr., AIR 2001 SC 2747, held that once the process has been issued, power under Section 319 Cr.P.C. cannot be exercised as at that stage, since it is neither an inquiry nor a trial.

In Ranjit Singh v. State of Punjab, AIR 1998 SC 3148, the Court held:

“So from the stage of committal till the Sessions Court reaches the stage indicated in Section 230 of the Code that court can deal with only the accused referred to in Section 209 of the Code. There is no intermediary stage till then for the Sessions Court to add any other person to the array of the accused.

Thus, once the Sessions Court takes cognizance of the offence pursuant to the committal order, the only other stage when the court is empowered to add any other person to the array of the accused is after reaching evidence collection when powers under Section 319 of the Code can be invoked”

In Kishun Singh & Ors v. State of Bihar, (1993) 2 SCC 16, the Court while considering the provision of the old Code, the Law Commission’s Recommendation and the provisions in the Cr.P.C., held that Section 319 Cr.P.C. is an improved provision upon the earlier one. It has removed the difficulty of taking cognizance as cognizance against the added person would be deemed to have been taken as originally against the other co-accused.

Therefore, on Magistrate committing the case under Section 209 Cr.P.C. to the Court of Sessions, the bar of Section 193 Cr.P.C. gets lifted thereby investing the Court of Sessions complete and unfettered jurisdiction of the court of original jurisdiction to take cognizance of the offence which would include the summoning of the person or persons whose complicity in the commission of the crime can prima facie be gathered from the material available on record, though who is not an accused before the court.

In Dharam Pal & Ors. v. State of Haryana & Anr., (2004) 13 SCC 9 (CB), the Constitution Bench approved the decision in Kishun Singh (Supra) that the Sessions Judge has original power to summon accused holding that

“the Sessions Judge was entitled to issue summons under Section 193 Code of Criminal Procedure upon the case being committed to him by the Magistrate. The key words in Section 193 are that “no Court of Session shall take cognizance of any offence as a Court of original jurisdiction unless the case has been committed to it by a Magistrate under this Code.”

The above provision entails that a case must, first of all, be committed to the Court of Session by the Magistrate. The second condition is that only after the case had been committed to it, could the Court of Session take cognizance of the offence exercising original jurisdiction. Although, an attempt has been made to suggest that the cognizance indicated in Section 193 deals not with cognizance of an offence, but of the commitment order passed by the learned Magistrate, we are not inclined to accept such a submission in the clear wordings of Section 193 that the Court of Session may take cognizance of the offences under the said Section”

The Supreme Court in ‘Hardeep Puri v. State of Punjab (2014)’, showed its agreement to dharampal case (supra), and finally concluded on the matter that,

“Since after the filing of the charge-sheet, the court reaches the stage of inquiry and as soon as the court frames the charges, the trial commences, and therefore, the power under Section 319(1) Cr.P.C. can be exercised at any time after the charge-sheet is filed and before the pronouncement of judgment, except during the stage of Section 207/208 Cr.P.C., committal etc., which is only a pre-trial stage, intended to put the process into motion. This stage cannot be said to be a judicial step in the true sense for it only requires an application of mind rather than a judicial application of mind.

At this pre-trial stage, the Magistrate is required to perform acts in the nature of administrative work rather than judicial such as ensuring compliance of Sections 207 and 208 Cr.P.C., and committing the matter if it is exclusively triable by Sessions Court. Therefore, it would be legitimate for us to conclude that the Magistrate at the stage of Sections 207 to 209 Cr.P.C. is forbidden, by express provision of Section 319 Cr.P.C., to apply his mind to the merits of the case and determine as to whether any accused needs to be added or subtracted to face trial before the Court of Sessions.”

The court further said that,

“In our opinion, the stage of inquiry does not contemplate any evidence in its strict legal sense, nor the legislature could have contemplated this inasmuch as the stage for evidence has not yet arrived. The only material that the court has before it is the material collected by the prosecution and the court at this stage prima facie can apply its mind to find out as to whether a person, who can be an accused, has been erroneously omitted from being arraigned or has been deliberately excluded by the prosecuting agencies.

This is all the more necessary in order to ensure that the investigating and the prosecuting agencies have acted fairly in bringing before the court those persons who deserve to be tried and to prevent any person from being deliberately shielded when they ought to have been tried. This is necessary to usher faith in the judicial system whereby the court should be empowered to exercise such powers even at the stage of inquiry and it is for this reason that the legislature has consciously used separate terms, namely, inquiry or trial in Section 319 Cr.P.C.

Accordingly, we hold that the court can exercise the power under Section 319 Cr.P.C. only after the trial proceeds and commences with the recording of the evidence and also in exceptional circumstances as explained herein above.”

While talking about complaint case, the court held that,

“What is essential for the purpose of the section is that there should appear some evidence against a person not proceeded against and the stage of the proceedings is irrelevant. Where the complainant is circumspect in proceeding against several persons, but the court is of the opinion that there appears to be some evidence pointing to the complicity of some other persons as well, Section 319 Cr.P.C. acts as an empowering provision enabling the court/Magistrate to initiate proceedings against such other persons.

The purpose of Section 319 Cr.P.C. is to do complete justice and to ensure that persons who ought to have been tried as well are also tried. Therefore, there does not appear to be any difficulty in invoking powers of Section 319 Cr.P.C. at the stage of trial in a complaint case when the evidence of the complainant as well as his witnesses is being recorded.”