“Every saint has a past and every sinner has a future. – Oscar Wilde
One of the fundamental principles of the criminal justice system in India is that an accused is assumed to be innocent unless proven guilty beyond a reasonable doubt. As per the Indian legal system, two perspectives are taken one is pointing to the guilt of the accused and the other is towards innocence. The accused does not have to demonstrate that he/she is not guilty, rather its’ a complainant who takes the burden of proving the guilt of the accused. The judge being an unbiased arbitrator justify the case beyond reasonable against the accused person. The phrase “beyond reasonable doubt” means that there has to be some evidence to establish that in all human probability the accused has performed the act.
The accused persons have been granted certain rights, the basis of these rights is found in the Constitution of India. Apart from this, an accused person has certain rights during the course of investigation, enquiry, and trial of the offence. The different legal provisions granting rights to the accused persons under various laws are enshrined below: –
Legal Provisions under the Code of Criminal Procedure: –
Right to get a copy of police report and other documents:-
According to Section 207, of the Code of Criminal Procedure, hereinafter Cr.P.C., if it is a police case then the accused is required to be furnished with the documents including the copy of the final report presented by the investigation agency, First Information Report, statements recorded under Section 161 and Section 164 of Cr.P.C., and any other relevant documents at free of cost. Further, as per Section 208 of Cr.P.C., if prosecution is the outcome of complaint case then copies of statements recorded under Section 200 or Section 202 by Magistrate, statements recorded under Section 161 and Section 164 of Cr.P.C. and any other documents presented before the Magistrate.
Right to be discharged: –
Our lawmakers have enacted the provision for discharge under Criminal law to spare the accused from prolonged harassment because of protracted trial when he/she is not guilty. Section 227 of the Cr.P.C. talks about the discharge of the accused when there are no sufficient grounds to prosecute against the accused after examining the record of the case, evidence produced and hearing both parties.
Right to present evidence: –
Section 243 (1) of the Cr.P.C. says that after the completion of prosecution evidence and submissions, and the examination of the accused person, then the accused person has a right to lead evidence in his/her favour in order to defend the case. The accused may call any witness after applying to the Magistrate to promulgate any process for securing the attendance of the witnesses for examination or cross-examination, or the production of any document or thing.
Right to be present at the time of taking evidence: –
Section 273 of the Cr.P.C. makes it obligatory on the part of the Magistrate to make sure that all the evidence in the trial proceedings shall be taken in the presence of the accused. And, if the personal attendance of the accused is dispensed with then it should be taken in the presence of his/her lawyer.
Right to be defended: –
Section 303 of the Cr.P.C. grants a right to an accused person to be defended by a pleader of his/her choice in criminal prosecution.
Right to get bail: –
Section 437 to 439 of the Cr.P.C. deals with provisions related to bail. If any person is charged with a bailable offence then bail is granted as a matter of right, whereas if the offence is non-bailable then it is the discretionary power of the court. There are some general conditions that are imposed on the accused person while granting bail like to coordinate the investigation on requirement, to not tamper with the evidence, and cannot leave the country without the court’s permission etc.
Legal aid: –
This privilege is available to a certain category of accused. Where during the trial the accused is not represented by a pleader and the court believes that such accused person has no sufficient means to engage a pleader, and then it shall assign a pleader for that accused person at the expense of state under Section 304 of the Cr.P.C.
Legal Provisions under the Constitution of India: –
Protection under Article 20 (1): –
As we know that legislature can enact both prospective and retrospective laws. But is it justified to punish a person for an act that was not an offence under law at its time of commission? Definitely, no, as it is against human rights, therefore, our Constitution of India provides protection under Article 20 (1), according to which legislature is restricted to make retrospective criminal laws. It means that a person cannot be convicted for an offence, which was not an offence at the time of its commission. However, the protection under this law is only available against the conviction or sentence for a criminal offence under ex post facto law and not against the trial.
Protection under Article 20 (2): –
Article 20 (2) protects from double jeopardy, which means that no person can be prosecuted and punished for the same offence more than once. If any person is prosecuted again for the same offence for which he/she has already been prosecuted then he/she can take a plea of double jeopardy as a valid defence. It may be noted that there are some restrictions to the rule of double jeopardy under Indian laws.
Protection under Article 20 (3): –
Self-incrimination is prohibited under Article 20 (3) as no accused person can be compelled to be a witness against himself. Meaning thereby no accused can be necessitated to testify anything which may run against him/her. The Hon’ble Supreme Court in the case of M.P. Sharma vs. Satish Chandra 1954 SCR 1077 interpreted the term “to be a witness” to include oral, documentary and testimonial evidence. Therefore, Article 20 (3) is not narrowed to only testimonial evidence.
Legal Provisions under the Indian Evidence Act: –
Section 24 of the Act: –
According to Section 24 of the Indian Evidence Act, if the court finds out that the confession made by the accused in criminal proceedings has been caused by any inducement, threat or promise, induced by a person in authority, and the threat has given fair grounds to the accused to believe that he/she would gain any advantage or avoid any evil of a temporal nature in reference to the proceedings, then such confession is meaningless.
Section 25 and 26 of the Act: –
Section 25 of the Indian Evidence Act postulates that a confession made by an accused to the police officer cannot be proved against him, whereas Section 26 of the Act suggests that a confession made by an accused while in police custody cannot be proved against him.
It is fundamental as well as the human right of the accused to be protected against illegal actions of the state. The major criminal laws like the Code of Criminal Procedure, Indian Evidence Act as well as the Indian Constitution provide legal protection to accused persons during trial proceedings. The concept of the speedy trial was also introduced in India to safeguard the rights of both the victim and the accused. Nowadays, it has been observed that there is a significant increase in custodial deaths. Numerous prisoners died in police custody but no attention has been paid to it by the administration.
Custodial deaths are unacceptable in a democratic country like India where each and every citizen of the country has been granted the right to life and personal liberty. Moreover, fundamental principles of criminal jurisprudence also provide for a fair trial. Therefore, it is the duty of the state to protect the rights of the accused persons facing criminal trials.
Associate at Aggarwals & Associates, S.A.S. Nagar, Mohali