Summary trial cases are conducted with an objective to save time. Where certain petty and trivial cases are concerned including summons cases as well as a few of warrant cases, Section 260(1) of the Criminal Procedure Code provides the Magistrate with quite a wide discretion to try these cases summarily.
The Law Commission in its forty first report rightly observed and stated that summary trials are abridged and shortened versions of summons and regular trials. Summary trials were also justified in this report by citing that even though adopting shortcuts in criminal cases is not the wisest but in view of Summary Trials, several safeguards have been provided: which type of judicial officers can exercise this power, punishment that can be inflicted, the nature of offences which can be tried.
Section 260(1) grants power to:
- Chief Judicial Magistrate
- Metropolitan Magistrate
- First Class Magistrate who have been specially empowered in this behalf to initiate a summary trial.
It is important to note that undertaking a summary trial is a prerogative of the Magistrate. He may undertake the trial if he deems it fit. One of the reasons why cases of somber and convoluted nature should not be tried by summary trial is because it is a shortcut procedure and since in criminal cases there are always risks involved, only experienced judicial officers should be empowered to try cases summarily.
A list of offences is provided by Section 260 which lays down the offences which can be tried summarily on the discretion of a judge:
- An act which is an offence with respect to which a complaint can be made under Section 20 of the Cattle –trespass Act of 1871.
- Offences listed under Section 454 and Section 456 of the Indian Penal Code
- Offences which constitute insult which are made with an intention of provoking a dereliction of peace as per Section 504 as well as criminal intimidation under Section 506 of the Indian Penal Code.
- Abetment of any foregoing offence
- The list includes offences which are not punishable with death, imprisonment for life as well as imprisonment for a term which exceeds two years
- Offences which include assisting in concealment or the disposal of property classified as stolen. The value of such a property should not exceed the sum of two thousand rupees. This falls under Section 411 of the Indian Penal Code.
- The offence of theft falling under Sections 379/380/381 of the Indian Penal Code. The property of the stolen property should not exceed two thousand rupees.
- The offence of receiving or keeping a hold of any kind of stolen property, the value of which should not exceed two thousand rupees under Section 411 of the Indian Penal Code.
- The offence of making an attempt to commit any of the foregoing offences, when such an attempt is classified as an offence.
It is prudent for the Magistrate to make use of his discretion taking into consideration the circumstances. The Magistrate should make sure to avoid summary trials where the facts of a particular case are too complex or would result in serious consequences. An example of that can be the dismissal of a public servant. The Magistrate is also not under any obligation to conduct a summary trial for an offense simply because it falls under the category of a foregoing offence.
If the Magistrate is of the view that conducting the proceedings in a summarily way may fail to bear fruitful result, he has been granted with the option of recalling the witness and initiating a trial as has been provided under the Criminal Procedure Code. Also, if there has been a change from summary to a regular trial, then that particular trial has to be conducted from inception.
According to Section 262(2), in case of conviction under summary trial, no sentences of imprisonment for a term exceeding three months can be passed. If the Court is of the belief that in the interest of upholding justice, there arises a need for conviction with a longer sentence, then the trial should be conducted as done in a warrant or a summon case focusing on the gravity of the offence. There is also no limit to fine which can be imposed in a summary trial.
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