Factors guiding exercise of discretion by Judge under Section 231 (2) CrPC, “practice guidelines” for trial court in conducting criminal trial stated: SC

Supreme Court: A Bench comprising of A.M. Sapre and Indu Malhotra, JJ. while allowing an appeal filed against the judgment of Kerala High Court, stated the factors guiding exercise of discretion by the Judges under Section 231 (2) CrPC and the practice guidelines to be followed by the trial courts while conducting criminal trials.

The trial court, in a criminal case, disallowed the application filed under Section 231 (2) by the accused seeking an adjournment of cross-examination of CWs 1 and 2 to a date after the examination-in-chief-of CWs 2 and 5 was complete. The said order was reversed by the High Court in an appeal filed by the accused. Aggrieved thereby, the appellant filed the present appeal.

The Supreme Court set aside the judgment impugned particularly in light of the possibility of undue influence and intimidation of witness(es) since the accused were “highly influential political leaders”. While holdings aforesaid, the Supreme Court stated that while deciding an application under the said Section, balance must be struck between the rights of the accused and prerogative of the prosecution to lead evidence. It was further stated that the following illustrative factors must be kept in consideration: (a) possibility of undue influence on or threats to witness; (b)possibility that non-deferral would enable subsequent witnesses giving evidence on similar facts to tailor their testimony to circumvent the defence strategy; (c) possibility of loss of memory of witness; (d) occurrence of delay in trial.

The Court further stated “practice” guidelines to be followed by trial courts in criminal trial which includes: (a) detailed case calendar must be prepared at the commencement of trial that specifies dates on which examination-in-chief and cross will be conducted; (b) testimony of witnesses deposing on the same subject-matter must be proximately scheduled; (c) request for deferral must be preferably made before preparation of calendar; (d) grant of request to be promised on sufficient reasons and date of cross-examination after deferral to be specified; (e) case calendar to be followed strictly and the witnesses to be safeguarded.

The appeal was disposed of in the terms above. [State of Kerala v. Rasheed,2018 SCC OnLine SC 2251 , dated 30-10-2018]

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