Right of accused to speedy trial can’t be denied by filing challans one after another: HC

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The Punjab and Haryana high court has held that in a case where trial has substantially progressed after filing of chargesheet, a supplementary challan against other accused cannot be attached with the main case and de novo (fresh) joint trial cannot be ordered where serious “prejudice” will be caused to those already charge-sheeted.

“The accused has the fundamental right to speedy trial. To hold otherwise will not only put the progress of the trial entirely in the hands of the police and the prosecution by enabling them to delay trial by filing police report/challan against the accused one after the other or the accused by enabling them to adopt the dilatory tactics of surrender by one or more of the accused but also denude the trial court of the requisite control on the progress of the trial and will also involve denial of fundamental right of one or more of accused to speedy trial,” the bench of justice Arun Kumar Tyagi said while allowing an appeal in a criminal case.

The high court was hearing an appeal filed in March in an attempt to murder and kidnapping case registered by Sangrur police in May 2018. One of the accused, Gurmail Singh, had approached the high court seeking directions to the trial court to conclude the trial in a time-bound manner.

The accused was behind the bars since June 2018. The police filed a challan in September 2018 and supplementary challan was presented against two more accused in November 2018. Prosecution evidence was concluded. But in January 2019, two more accused joined investigation and the police filed another chargesheet in March 2020.

The trial court passed an order of attachment of supplementary chargseheet of March 2020 with the main case even as examination of witness by the defence was already over. Feeling aggrieved, he had urged the HC to issue direction for speedy and separate trial.

The high court observed that Section 223 of the CrPC permits that a joint trial may be held but leaves it to court’s discretion to order joint or separate trial. In exercise of the discretion, the court has to take into consideration the stage at which the already pending trial has reached and also whether any inconvenience or prejudice will be caused to the accused already charge-sheeted in case a joint trial is ordered, the bench observed.

“It has now become a general practice that the police, instead of conducting investigation into the offences committed at one time and taking steps for ascertaining complete facts and circumstances, make piecemeal investigation and keep on arresting the accused and filing police report/challan against them one after the other for years together,” the HC observed, adding that the trial courts follow the course by attaching supplementary challans filed against accused without any application of mind.

The bench allowed the plea and quashed the trial court’s February 25 order whereby attachment of chargesheet orders with main case were passed. The court also ordered that the copy of the judgment be sent to all district and sessions judges in Punjab, Haryana and Chandigarh for information.

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