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Report No. 114

6.10. Procedure in criminal proceedings.-

Having regard to Article 21 of the Constitution, and further having regard to the conferment of criminal jurisdiction of a fairly extensive nature, a fair procedure has to be devised for trial of criminal cases by procedure prescribed in the Code of Criminal Procedure, 1973, for trial of summons and warrant cases has stood the test of Article 21. Lawyers participating in the debate very vehemently stressed that if a bold step of conferring extensive criminal jurisdiction on Gram Nyayalaya is to be taken, a safeguard must be provided that the trial before it shall take place according to the provisions of the Code of Criminal Procedure, 1973. Provisions of the Code of Criminal Procedure, 1973, for trial of offences lean heavily in favour of the accused and more often a real culprit escapes on account of over-emphasis on adherence to procedure.

But even with this reservation, as first step, it is advisable to retain the procedure prescribed in the Code of Criminal Procedure, 1973, for trial of offences before Gram Nyayalaya. The Evidence Act as such stricto sensu would not apply. Some of its provisions have literally an inbuilt guarantee for miscarriage of justice. An illustration would convey the message in a cogent manner. Ravi Shanker Maharaj, renowned Gandhian Social worker was carrying on an experiment for improving equality of life in rural areas near Dholka in Gujarat with a view to weaning people away from criminal activities. He had raised a cadre of dedicated social workers. Those who thrived on criminal propensities found the activities of Ravi Shanker Maharaj a hindrance. One of the closest colleagues of Maharaj was murdered.

The police appeared on the scene but was not making any headway. In his true Gandhian tradition, he went on fast for change of heart. One evening two persons appeared before him and confessed having committed murder of the social worker. Ravi Shanker Maharaj heard them and requested them to surrender to the police and permit the law to take its own course. Accordingly, the culprits surrendered. Investigation was completed and they were challenged. The case was committed to the Court of Session. In the trial before the Session Judge, Ravi Shanker Maharaj was cited as a witness to prove the extra judicial confession of the culprits as they had retracted their confession. No one, not even the Judge, had any doubt about the truthfulness veracity and credibility of Ravi Shanker Maharaj. He gave his evidence.

There was no reason why his evidence should not be accepted. If it were accepted, there would be an iron clad case against the accused. In the cross-examination, the defence counsel did not try to shake the testimony of Ravi Shanker Maharaj. He asked only one question: whether the police was there near the door of the room when the culprits appeared before him and confessed that they had committed murder. The answer was in the affirmative. The provision of section 25 of the Evidence Act was involved and the evidence of extra-judicial confession was ruled inadmissible.

The accused were acquitted. Later on, Ravi Shanker Maharaj said that the system of justice as administered by the British rulers had an inbuilt tendency of promoting injustice. Such illustrations can be multiplied. The Commission is, therefore, of the view that the Evidence Act enacted about a century back stricto sensu should not apply even in the matter of criminal proceedings before the gram Nyayalaya. However, the trial shall be held according to the procedure prescribed' in the Code of Criminal Procedure. An attempt, however, should be made to devise still simpler procedure which may stand the test of Article 21 of the Constitution.



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