Powers under Section 319 of the CPC meant to be used by court only in exceptional cases: Supreme Court of India

The power granted to the court under Section 319 of the Criminal Procedure Code allows for a person other than the accused to be tried alongside the accused person. However, a bench of the Supreme Court consisting of Justice S.B. Sinha and Justice P. Sathasivam adjudged in the case of Sarabjit Singh &Anr. v State of Punjab [Criminal Appeal No. 998 of 2009] on May 12th 2009  that these powers were meant to be used very sparingly and only in exceptional cases.

As per the First Information Report lodged, a witness saw the victim, Rajwinder Singh surrounded by the appellants, Sarabjit Singh and Saroop Singh in some fields on 2nd May 2005. The appellants allegedly attacked and beat the victim causing serious injury to him. After the appellants had finished beating the victim, Gurdip Singh who is the appellant in Criminal Appeal arising out of SLP (Crl.) No.19 of 2007, allegedly beat the victim until his death. The appellants of the present case contended that the deceased man, Rajwinder Singh was a vagabond who had numerous criminal cases pending against him as well as feuds with multiple people of that village and that the whole village was sick of his activities. They also added that the victim was still alive after they beat him and that they were in no way responsible for his death.

Based on the FIR, an application was filed to summon the appellants under Section 319 of the Criminal Procedure Code which states that in cases where it appears that any person apart from the accused has committed any offence for which they could be tried alongside the accused, the court has the power to proceed against them for whatever offence they appear to have committed. The appellants counsel contended that provisions of Section 319 of the Criminal Procedure Code was exceptional in nature and that since the appellants played no role in the murder of the Rajwinder Singh and were found to be innocent during the investigation, the Sessions  Court committed an error in summoning them to stand trial alongside Gurdip Singh. The court accepted this contention of the appellants and cited the case of Municipal Corporation of Delhi v Ram Kishan Rastogi [(1983) 1 SCC 1] where this court stated “this is really an extraordinary power which is conferred on the Court and should be used very sparingly and only if compelling reasons exist for taking cognizance against the other person against whom action has not been taken” while talking about the powers under Section 319 of the CPC.

Justice S.B. Sinha can be quoted as saying “Once the Sessions Court takes cognizance of the offence pursuant to the committal order, the only other stage when the court is empowered to add any other person to the array of the accused is after reaching evidence collection when powers under Section 319 of the Code can be invoked. We are unable to find any other power for the Sessions Court to permit addition of new person or persons to the array of the accused. “The court concluded “We, therefore, are of the opinion that the impugned judgment cannot be sustained which is set aside accordingly and the matter is remitted to the learned Sessions Judge for consideration of the matter afresh.”

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