Victim’s counsel can make up for deficiencies in the prosecution case but can’t argue the case

Supreme Court: Dealing with the question relating to the extent to which a victim’s counsel can participate in the prosecution of a case, the bench of MM Shantanagoudar and Deepak Gupta, JJ has held that the victim’s counsel is subject to the directions of the Public Prosecutor and that the victim’s counsel should ordinarily not be given the right to make oral arguments or examine and cross­examine witnesses.

The Court held

“to ensure that the right of appeal accorded to a victim under the proviso to Section 372 of the Cr.P.C. is not rendered meaningless due to the errors of the Public Prosecutor at the trial stage itself, we find that some significant role should be given to the victim’s counsel while assisting the prosecution.”

The Court, however, was of the opinion that the balance inherent in the scheme of the CrPC should not be tampered with, and the prime role accorded to the Public Prosecutor should not be diluted. A harmonious reading should be given to Section 24(8) and 301(2) to give them full effect. Section 301(2) makes the pleader instructed by a private person subject to the directions of the Public Prosecutor or the Assistant Public Prosecutor.

Noticing that the introduction of the proviso to Section 24(8) CrPC acts as a safety valve, inasmuch as the victim’s counsel can make up for any oversights or deficiencies in the prosecution case, the Court explained that if the victim’s counsel feels that a certain aspect has gone unaddressed in the examination of the witnesses or the arguments advanced by the Public Prosecutor, he may route any questions or points through the Public Prosecutor himself. The Court, however, added,

“even if there is a situation where the Public Prosecutor fails to highlight some issue of importance despite it having been suggested by the victim’s counsel, the victim’s counsel may still not be given the unbridled mantle of making oral arguments or examining witnesses. This is because in such cases, he still has a recourse by channelling his questions or arguments through the Judge first.”

[Rekha Muraka v. State of West Bengal, 2019 SCC OnLine SC 1495, decided on 20.11.2019]

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