Judge is not a Recording Machine in a Trial

Trial must follow rules and be free & fair

A trial must be free and fair and is sine-qua-non of Article 21 of Indian Constitution. A fair trial is one in which the rules of evidence are honoured, the accused has competent counsel, and the judge enforces the proper court room procedures – a trial in which every assumption can be challenged. This is what the Supreme Court says in Munna Pandey v State of Bihar.

If the criminal trial is not free and fair, then the confidence of the public in the judicial fairness of a judge and the justice delivery system would be shaken. Denial to fair trial is an injustice to the accused, the victim and the society. No trial can be treated as a fair trial unless there is an impartial judge conducting the trial, an honest, able and fair defence counsel, and equally honest, able and fair public prosecutor.

A fair trial necessarily includes fair and proper opportunity to the prosecutor to prove the guilt of the accused and opportunity to the accused to prove his innocence.

Accused is presumed innocent until convicted

The SC emphasized that for the dispensation of criminal justice, India follows the accusatorial or adversarial system of common law.

In the accusatorial or adversarial system, the accused is presumed to be innocent; prosecution and defence each put their case; judge acts as an impartial umpire and while acting as a neutral umpire sees whether the prosecution has been able to prove its case beyond reasonable doubt or not.

The sole idea of criminal justice system is to see that justice is done. Justice will be said to be done when no innocent person is punished and the guilty person is not allowed to go scot free.

Role of a judge as an umpire in a trial

The role of a judge in dispensation of justice after ascertaining the true facts no doubt is very difficult one.

In the pious process of unravelling the truth so as to achieve the ultimate goal of dispensing justice between the parties the judge cannot keep himself unconcerned and oblivious to the various happenings taking place during the progress of trial of any case. No doubt he has to remain very vigilant, cautious, fair and impartial, and not to give even a slightest of impression that he is biased or prejudiced either due to his own personal convictions or views in favour of one or the other party. The Judge cannot simply shut his own eyes and remain as a mute spectator, acting like a robot or a recording machine to just deliver what stands feeded by the parties.

A Judge is also duty bound to act with impartiality and before he gives an opinion or sits to decide the issues between the parties, he should be sure that there is no bias against or for either of the parties to the lis.

For a judge to properly discharge this duty the concept of independence of judiciary is in existence and it includes ability and duty of a Judge to decide each case according to an objective evaluation and application of the law, without the influence of outside factors.

Judge is not just a recording machine

To impart justice in a free, fair and effective manner, the presiding judge cannot remain a mute spectator totally oblivious to the various happenings taking place around him in the case being tried by him.

A fair trial is possible only when the court takes active interest and elicit all relevant information and material necessary to find out the truth for achieving the goal of dispensing justice with all fairness and impartiality to both the parties.

In relying on Ram Chander v State of Haryana, (1981) 3 SCC 191, wherein it was observed that if a criminal court is to be an effective instrument in dispensing justice, the presiding judge must cease to be a spectator and a mere recording machine.

He must become a participant in the trial by evincing intelligent active interest by putting questions to witnesses in order to ascertain the truth.

Powers of the HC in acquitting or convicting

The SC, in its judgement, enumerated the provisions of the Code of Criminal Procedure, 1973 (Crpc) to demonstrate the wide powers of the High Court.

According to Section 366 CrPC, when a Court of Session passes a sentence of death, the proceedings must be submitted to the High Court and the sentence of death is not to be executed unless it is confirmed by the High Court.

The Section 367 CrPC then lays down the power of the High Court to direct further enquiry to be made or additional evidence to be taken.

The Section 368, thereafter, lays down the power of the High Court to confirm the sentence so imposed or annul the conviction.

One of the powers which the High Court can exercise is one under Section 368(c) of the CrPC and that is to “acquit the accused person”. Pertinently, the power to acquit the person can be exercised by the High Court even without there being any substantive appeal on the part of the accused challenging his conviction. These provisions thus entitle the High Court to direct further enquiry or to take additional evidence and the High Court may, in a given case, even acquit the accused person.

Ordinarily, in a criminal appeal against conviction, the appellate court, under Section 384 of the CrPC, can dismiss the appeal, if the Court is of the opinion that there is no sufficient ground for interference, after examining all the grounds urged before it for challenging the correctness of the decision given by the Trial Court.

The position is, however, different where the appeal is by an accused who is sentenced to death, so that the High Court dealing with the appeal has before it, simultaneously with the appeal, a reference for confirmation of the capital sentence under Section 366 of the CrPC.

On a reference for confirmation of sentence of death, the High Court is required to proceed in accordance with Sections 367 and 368 respectively of the CrPC and the provisions of these Sections make it clear that the duty of the High Court, in dealing with the reference, is not only to see whether the order passed by the Sessions Judge is correct, but to examine the case for itself and even direct a further enquiry or the taking of additional evidence if the Court considers it desirable in order to ascertain the guilt or the innocence of the convicted person.