Report No. 14
21. The position in England.-
The question has recently been considered in England where a Committee1 was appointed "to consider what changes, if any, should be made in the law relating to the trial of minor offences in magistrates' courts with a view to saving the time of the courts and of witnesses without prejudicing the rights of the defendant, and in particular to recommend whether changes should be made:-
(a) to permit a defendant to enter a plea of guilty without appearing before the Court2.....".
The Committee began by referring to the increase in the proportion of road traffic cases. It pointed out, that it had "become the practice, in an increasing proportion of cases, for the defendant not to appear; and it would, indeed, be unreasonable to require a defendant to come from a distance to appear in a comparatively unimportant case, since the cost of attending, including the loss of a day's work, might well exceed the penalty likely to be imposed by the justices.
The habit of writing a letter to the court, in lies of attending, has grown and is now widespread, and this saves the time of the defendants."2 It was, however felt by the Committee that there was a substantial waste of time of the police for the reason that whether the accused person pleaded guilty or not by post, the police officer had necessarily to attend the Court not knowing what the plea would be. To meet this difficulty, the Home Office appears to have issued certain circulars.
In these circulars it was suggested that the defendants should be invited to say whether they intended to appear in Court. It was, however, made clear that no defendant should be sentenced to imprisonment in his absence. After examining the provisions of the Magistrates' Courts Act, 1952, the Committee came to the conclusion that a change should be made in the law to permit the defendant to enter a plea of guilty without appearing before the Court, where the offence is necessarily triable in the magistrate's court and the proceedings were initiated by a summons.
1. Departmental Committee on the Summary Trial of Minor Offences.
2. Report, p. 5, para. 1.
3. Report, p. 6, para. 6.
It recommended that the defendant should be permitted to inform the Court in writing that he desired to enter a plea of guilty without appearing before the Court and that such a plea should be treated as one entered by a defendant who had appeared before the Court. The Committee also recommended as a safeguard that in such cases the defendant should be served together with the summons, with a notice inviting him to say whether he wished to enter a plea of guilty without appearing before the Court and also with a concise statement of the facts of the case.
The recommendations which the Committee made were further subject to the condition that where the Court had accepted the plea of guilty, the accused should not be sentenced to imprisonment and that certain other orders should not be passed against him without giving him a further opportunity to appear.
Recommendations of the Departmental Committee.- In making these recommendations, the Committee expressed the view, that it was not proper to confine this procedure to motoring offences. The Committee thought it would be wrong for any new procedure to apply only to motoring offences and they understood their terms of reference to involve the question whether they could devise an acceptable procedure by which a plea of guilty could be entered by a defendant without appearing before the Courts.
They felt that it would be best to confine the operation of any such new procedure to those cases, which the experience of the Courts had shown, could safely be dealt with in the absence of the defendant. They, accordingly, proceeded to determine the class of minor offences to which this new procedure could be made applicable. They finally recommended that the procedure should apply to all offences which are necessarily triable summarily, provided that the proceedings were initiated by the issue of a summons.1 Their recommendations were given statutory effect by the Magistrates' Court Act, 1957 (5 and 6 Eliz. 2 Ch. 29).
1. Report, p. 16, para. 36.
22. Scope for application in India.-
To what offences such a procedure as is contemplated in section 130 of the Motor Vehicles Act, 1939, can be extended is a matter which calls for detailed scrutiny. This procedure has already shown its usefulness in the disposal of traffic cases. It should be of equal value in cases of breaches of rules or regulations under various local and certain other Acts most of which are punishable with fines only. Though the extension of this procedure to cases under the Indian Penal Code cannot be recommended without further consideration, its extension to minor offences created by special or local Acts is in our opinion, feasible.
23. We may point out that in England, the Committee took the view that it was impossible to catalogue all offences to which the new procedure could be applied as any such catalogue would become out of date almost overnight and that there was no convincing reason for a gradual extension. They therefore formulated a general rule that the procedure should apply only to proceedings initiated by the issue of a summons, in case of offences not punishable with imprisonment; offences punishable with imprisonment but only on a second, or subsequent conviction, and offences punishable with imprisonment, on first conviction; but that it would not be applicable if the case warranted the imposition of a sentence of imprisonment.
24. Extension recommended.-
As indicated, there are a large number of petty offences, mostly of a technical kind, in which the imposition of a fine as penalty would meet the ends of justice. In those cases, where there is every likelihood of the accused pleading guilty, the need for the examination by the courts of a large number of witnesses, often public servants, may be avoided if the above procedure is employed.
There are in fact a large number of offences which can be compounded on payment of a penalty fixed by the prosecuting department; in those cases, the fact that an offence has or has not been committed is not determined by a court of law; nor is the penalty to be imposed decided by a court after taking into consideration all the circumstances of the case. The existence of such a system of composition of offences in our statutes provides ample justification for applying a procedure similar to that provided in section 130 of the Motor Vehicles Act, 1939.
25. Suggested procedure.-
In all cases suitable to be dealt with in this manner we recommend the adoption of the procedure outlined below. The prosecution should initially decide whether the procedure should be applied. If the prosecution decides to adopt the procedure, a summons should be issued to the accused, along with a concise statement of the facts of the case and a notice asking him to state if he wishes to plead guilty without appearing in Court. The notice should also state the fine that would be imposed on his entering a plea of guilty.
The Court in fixing the penalty would take into consideration the facts of the case. The accused person would be at liberty to remit the fine to the Court by money order. On the fine being received, the case would stand disposed of. We do not wish to enter into the further details of the procedure. Assistance can in this respect be derived from the Magistrate's Court Act, 1957 (5 and 6 Eliz. 2 Ch. 29).
26. Certain objections.-
Some police officers thought that the enforced appearance of the accused in the Court had a deterrent effect and should not therefore be dispensed with. It is wrong in principle to take the view that having to appear in the Court is by itself a punishment with a deterrent effect. We do not agree with this view. These petty offences are not deliberately committed. The fact that a fine had to be paid will certainly tend to make the persons concerned more careful in the future.
27. Mobile courts.-
It has been suggested that mobile courts should be established to ensure speedy disposal of criminal cases particularly in the larger cities. We understand that such a court has been created in the city of Madras and is working satisfactorily. It deals with a large number of petty cases in which the accused generally plead guilty and are ordered to pay small fines. A magistrate is required to go to a particular place at a given time, where the accused from the neighbouring localities are brought before him for trial.
He works from 7:30 a.m. to 11 a.m. holding court at three different centres during these hours. In ninety per cent. of the cases, the accused plead guilty. The cases in which they claim to be tried are transferred to the regular magistrates. We were told that the mobile court in Madras disposed of as many as 13000 cases in 1954, 36000 in 1955 and 46000 in 1956. In Calcutta also there is a mobile court, which functions once in a week. We were told that it was working quite satisfactorily, and that the system could not be extended because of the insufficient number of magistrates.
28. Introduction recommended.-
Having regard to the success of these courts in Madras and Calcutta, we recommend that such courts be created in all large cities and towns, particularly where there arise for disposal a large number of petty cases. The institution of such courts will reduce the inconvenience to the accused and witnesses, and relieve the regular magistrates of these petty cases, leaving them time to give better attention to the more important cases.
29. Summary of recommendations.-
Our recommendations regarding delays in criminal trials and inquiries can be summarized as follows:-
(1) The judiciary should be separated from the executive to ensure the speedy disposal of cases.
(2) The rates of batta and travelling allowances for witnesses attending criminal courts should be revised.
(3) Adequate budget provision should be made to enable the courts to pay travelling and other allowances to all witnesses who attend in obedience to summons.
(4) Provision should be made for the convenience of witnesses who attend courts.
(5) The provision for summary punishment of recalcitrant witnesses in section 485A of the Criminal Procedure Code should be made effective by a suitable amendment of section 487.
(6) Presiding officers should not hesitate to take firm action against witnesses who remain absent notwithstanding service of summons by the issue of warrants, forfeiture of bonds, and by instituting prosecutions.
(7) The measures set out in paragraph 12 and other similar measures should be adopted to ensure that summonses are served in time.
(8) A strict system of supervision should be devised to prevent delays arising from unmethodical postings.
(9) Steps should be taken to ensure that cases under special Acts initiated by departments other than the police are given necessary attention by the prosecution.
(10) The strength of the magistracy should be increased to the required level wherever the existing strength is inadequate.
(11) Provision should be made for the accommodation of new courts when they are established.
(12) A provision similar to that set out in section 130 of the Motor Vehicles Act, 1939,' and explained in detail in paragraphs 20 and 25 enabling-an accused to plead guilty without appearing in court should be made applicable to the trial of petty offences under special and local Acts.
(13) In the large cities, mobile courts on the lines of those now working in Calcutta and Madras, should be established.