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 evidence under Section 319

The Supreme Court in Hardeep Puri v. State of Punjab (2014)’ said that the word `evidence` as used under Section 319 Cr.P.C., the evidence as understood under Section 3 of the Evidence Act is the statement of the witnesses that are recorded during trial and the documentary evidence in accordance with the Evidence Act, which also includes the document and material evidence in the Evidence Act. Such evidence begins with the statement of the prosecution witnesses, therefore, is evidence which includes the statement during examination-in-chief.

In Rakesh v. State of Haryana, AIR 2001 SC 2521, it was held that “It is true that finally at the time of trial the accused is to be given an opportunity to cross-examine the witness to test its truthfulness. But that stage would not arise while exercising the court’s power under Section 319 CrPC. Once the deposition is recorded, no doubt there being no cross-examination, it would be a prima facie material which would enable the Sessions Court to decide whether powers under Section 319 should be exercised or not.”

In Ranjit Singh v. State of Punjab, AIR 1998 SC 3148, Supreme Court held that “it is not necessary for the court to wait until the entire evidence is collected,” for exercising the said power.

In Mohd. Shafi v. Mohd. Rafiq & Anr., AIR 2007 SC 1899, it was held that the pre-requisite for exercise of power under Section 319 Cr.P.C. was the satisfaction of the court to proceed against a person who is not an accused but against whom evidence occurs, for which the court can even wait till the cross examination is over and that there would be no illegality in doing so.

A similar view has been taken by a two-Judge Bench in the case of Harbhajan Singh & Anr. v. State of Punjab & Anr. (2009) 13 SCC 608.

The court in Hardeep Singh (supra)finally concluded on this point that, Once examination-in-chief is conducted, the statement becomes part of the record. It is evidence as per law and in the true sense, for at best, it may be rebuttable. An evidence being rebutted or controverted becomes a matter of consideration, relevance and belief, which is the stage of judgment by the court. Yet it is evidence and it is material on the basis whereof the court can come to a prima facie opinion as to complicity of some other person who may be connected with the offence.

The court further said that, “all that is required for the exercise of the power under Section 319 Cr.P.C. is that, it must appear to the court that some other person also who is not facing the trial, may also have been involved in the offence. The pre-requisite for the exercise of this power is similar to the prima facie view which the magistrate must come to in order to take cognizance of the offence.

Therefore, no straight-jacket formula can and should be laid with respect to conditions precedent for arriving at such an opinion and, if the Magistrate/Court is convinced even on the basis of evidence appearing in Examination-in-Chief, it can exercise the power under Section 319 Cr.P.C. and can proceed against such other person(s).

It is essential to note that the Section also uses the words ‘such person could be tried’ instead of should be tried. Hence, what is required is not to have a mini-trial at this stage by having examination and cross-examination and thereafter rendering a decision on the overt act of such person sought to be added.

In fact, it is this mini-trial that would affect the right of the person sought to be arraigned as an accused rather than not having any cross-examination at all, for in light of sub-section 4 of Section 319 Cr.P.C., the person would be entitled to a fresh trial where he would have all the rights including the right to cross examine prosecution witnesses and examine defence witnesses and advance his arguments upon the same.

Therefore, even on the basis of Examination- in-Chief, the Court or the Magistrate can proceed against a person as long as the court is satisfied that the evidence appearing against such person is such that it prima facie necessitates bringing such person to face trial. In fact, Examination-in-Chief untested by Cross Examination, undoubtedly in itself, is an evidence.

Further, in our opinion, there does not seem to be any logic behind waiting till the cross-examination of the witness is over. It is to be kept in mind that at the time of exercise of power under Section 319 Cr.P.C., the person sought to be arraigned as an accused, is in no way participating in the trial. Even if the cross-examination is to be taken into consideration, the person sought to be arraigned as an accused cannot cross examine the witness(s) prior to passing of an order under Section 319 Cr.P.C., as such a procedure is not contemplated by the Cr.P.C.

Secondly, invariably the State would not oppose or object to naming of more persons as an accused as it would only help the prosecution in completing the chain of evidence, unless the witness(s) is obliterating the role of persons already facing trial. More so, Section 299 Cr.P.C. enables the court to record evidence in absence of the accused in the circumstances mentioned therein.

Thus, in view of the above, we hold that power under Section 319 Cr.P.C. can be exercised at the stage of completion of examination in chief and court does not need to wait till the said evidence is tested on cross-examination for it is the satisfaction of the court which can be gathered from the reasons recorded by the court, in respect of complicity of some other person(s), not facing the trial in the offence.”