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Clubbing of Investigations and Trials

The practice of "Clubbing of Investigations and Trials" is a crucial aspect of our criminal justice system. It ensures efficiency and fairness, similar to a diligent shopper's checklist. This approach combines related cases, promoting judicial equity, resource efficiency, and streamlined administration of justice. It protects the rights of both the accused and victims while optimizing the use of judicial resources for the broader benefit of society. By following legal provisions and precedents, our legal framework maintains the integrity of our justice system, preventing undue harassment and ensuring the effective delivery of justice. Clubbing investigations and trials are an excellent representation of the core principles of our democratic society, respecting individual rights and promoting the greater good through a more efficient legal process.

I. Introduction

Suppose a person is faced with the task of purchasing numerous items from a single market within a day; the logical and prudent approach involves creating a comprehensive list. By doing so, one can efficiently procure all the required items in a single excursion, minimizing the need for multiple trips. This approach not only prioritizes convenience but also adheres to efficient resource management. The objective is clear: acquire everything needed in one go, avoiding the hassle of separate visits. This strategy underscores the principles of practicality and judiciousness, resulting in a seamless and effective shopping experience.

The above example rightly provides the whole essence of the present article, wherein the article aims to explain the instances of clubbing of investigations and trials.

Our judicial system focuses on establishing a procedure ensuring justice for all and avoiding the harassment of any individual, and that’s why a lot of safeguards have been provided under our Criminal Justice System, not only for the victim but also for the accused.

One such protection that has been cemented more firmly over time is the clubbing of investigations and trials. It has been seen many times that multiple First Information Reports (“FIRs”) are lodged against the same person in the same course of actions in various parts of nations, causing inordinate convenience to the person named accused in the FIR. A few recent examples are Nupur Sharma, who faced lodging of several FIRs against her in relation to remarks made by her against religion; the other prominent examples are several FIRs registered against Alt News cofounder Mohammed Zubair in Delhi and Uttar Pradesh, for allegedly hurting religious sentiments through his different tweets.

In such cases, the person might have to suffer oddly because he has to be involved in different investigations conducted in different places in pursuance of the various FIRs and later in separate trials, causing difficulty for him, which might also result in deprivation of his right to have a fair procedure of investigation and trial.

II. Legal provisions and procedure

Section 154 of the Code of Criminal Procedure (“CrPC”) pertains to initiating the investigation process through filing an FIR. This process, spanning from sections 154 to 177 under Chapter XII of the CrPC, culminates with submitting a chargesheet, also known as the police report, under section 173 of the CrPC. Once the chargesheet is filed, the Magistrate exercises cognizance under section 190 of the CrPC, thereby triggering subsequent actions.

Upon taking cognizance, the Magistrate proceeds to issue a summon or warrant to the accused. Simultaneously, the relevant case documents are furnished to the accused. Following this, the Magistrate formulates the charges against the accused, with a provision for considering discharge applications at this juncture. This progression marks the commencement of the trial phase. This is only one aspect of the Criminal proceedings starting from the FIR as there are other procedures also for instances which begin from the complaint under section 200 of the CrPC or the information received under section 190(c) of the CrPC and follow a different route but ultimately coincides with stage of issuance of process.

The framing of the Charges is the first step of the trial, followed by the extension of evidence for the prosecution, statement of the accused, evidence for the defence, and then eventually the conclusion of the trial with either the conviction or acquittal of the accused.

As can be observed, the whole process, whether of investigation or of trial, requires a long procedural obligation from both parties as well as resources of the state. Therefore, the clubbing of investigations and trials becomes a pertinent instrument to save the state’s resources and ensure fair procedure which might be compromised in light of the too many investigations or trials going on and thus, consequently warranting the convenience of the parties.

III. Clubbing of investigations

The Hon’ble Supreme Court, in the case of Anju Chaudhary v. the State of UP, [1]observed that filing many FIRs in the same incident and thus, resulting in several investigations is not allowed to protect the fundamental right of an accused against double jeopardy, to maintain the rule of fair investigation and not to allow the police to abuse their investigative powers under CrPC.

Further, the apex court in the case of T.T. Anthony v. State of Kerala[2] observed that filing the second FIR regarding the same incident violates Articles 20(2) and 21 of the Constitution of India, 1949 (“the Constitution”) and section 300 of CrPC, which prohibits double jeopardy.

Recently, the Supreme Court, in the case of Abhishek Singh v. Union of India[3] while directing the clubbing of all the FIRs State-wise, observed that the multiplicity of the proceedings will not be in the larger public interest.

As per sections 154 to 157, 162, 169, 170, and 173 of the CrPC, only the earliest information as per section 154 is relevant and there can be no second FIR, nor can there be a fresh investigation on receiving new information on the same transaction and if the second FIR based on the same incident is attempted to be lodged the same shall be treated as statements under section 162 of the CrPC.

At this point, it is pertinent to discuss the difference between the quashing and clubbing of the subsequent FIRs, even though both serve the same purpose. Quashing of the subsequent FIRs can be done by the High Court in whose jurisdiction FIRs are lodged under section 482 of the CrPC. However, if the accused files the writ petition under Article 32 of the Constitution in that case the apex court allows only the clubbing of FIRs not the quashing of the FIRs as the same is directed to be done by the High Court.[4]

The courts decide whether the subsequent FIRs are in terms of the same incident in which an FIR has already been lodged based on a few principles, namely, the “Sameness Principle” and “Test of Consequences.”[5] Furthermore, the question of whether the subsequent FIRs are found on the same incident or are in consequence of the first FIR is based on the mixed question of law and facts of the relevant case.

“Sameness principle” refers to the FIRs related to the same incident or that are part of the same transaction, or the subject matter of which is the same.[6] It is pertinent to observe that the test of sameness applies only when there is the same offence but not the same kind of offence. For instance, murder and culpable homicide are similar but different offences. Both are similar in nature but are two different offences. The police, in such cases, are supposed to register an FIR every single time.[7]

In Arnab Ranjan Goswami v. Union of India[8], the clubbing of all the FIRs was allowed since they all originated from the same incident i.e., his broadcasting reports on an incident known as the Palghar Lynching; the court held that failure to do so would constitute a breach of the petitioner’s right to fair treatment under Article 14.

However, in the case of Bank of Rajasthan v. Keshav Bangur[9], the court held that even if the subsequent FIR involves the same offence and is filed against the same person as in the first FIR, the same shall be maintainable if it contains a different version of the concerned and has been filed by any different individual. Similarly, reasoning was also observed in the case of P. Sreekumar v. State of Kerala and Others.[10]

Moreover, if the investigating agency finds new factual information that hints towards the commission of separate offences, that too on the broader scale by the accused in that case, the second FIR is maintainable, as observed in Nirmal Singh Kahlon v. State of Punjab.[11]

However, the new factual information must be substantial, as in Prem Chand Singh v. State of Uttar Pradesh,[12] it was observed that if the substance of two FIRs is identical, the simple insertion of a few clauses in the second FIR does not qualify it as a separate occurrence.

The “Test of Consequence” refers to an allegation that is a part of the second FIR and that follows or arises as a consequence of the offence in the first FIR.[13]

In the case of Chirra Shivraj v. State of Andhra Pradesh[14], the first FIR was lodged by the victim on receiving severe burns from the accused. However, when the victim died, the second FIR was lodged against the accused, charging him specifically for murder. The court found the second FIR is not maintainable because the second FIR was a consequence of the events already mentioned in the first FIR. The court added that in the circumstances, the contents of the so-called second FIR should be incorporated in the police diary as a result of further information or events that had taken place in pursuance of the first offence, which had already been recorded under the first FIR.

However, suppose an entirely separate transaction occurs after the first FIR, which can’t be said to occur as a consequence of the early incident. In that case, that must be reported through the subsequent FIR. In the case of Awadesh Kumar Jha v. State of Bihar[15], an FIR was lodged against the accused under sections 3,4,5,6 and 7 of the Immoral Traffic (Prevention) Act, 1956, in pursuance of which the accused applied for bail where he provided the wrong information to the court. Consequently, a second FIR was lodged against the accused, under sections 419 and 420 of the Indian Penal Code, 1860 which was held to be maintainable since a separate transaction occurred.

It is pertinent to note that if the second FIR contains the rival version of the same incident, then it will be considered a cross FIR, which, even though arises from the same incident and includes the same party, will still be maintainable.

Cross-FIR originates from a single incident, happening in one particular area at a time which can, in the opinion of a reasonable man, be said to have occurred together or at the same time, in respect of the offence being prosecuted as a summons case or a warrant case.[16] However, it is pertinent to observe that in the cross-FIR cases, it has been directed that the same investigation officer should conduct the investigation.[17] However, the prosecutor officer must be separate for each case.

In the case of Upkar Singh v. Ved Prakash and others[18], the Hon’ble Court explicitly held that though the subsequent FIRs found on the same incident are not maintainable, however, if they have been registered in the nature of counter complaints (cross-FIR), then the same shall be maintainable.

IV. Clubbing of trials

Section 218 of the CrPC provides that an accused has to be tried separately and distinctly for the charge of each offence. While section 218 denotes the general treatment related to the trial, subsequent provisions of sections 219, 220, 221, and 223 of the CrPC have provided exceptions to it and laid down the procedure of clubbing of trials.

Section 219 (1) of the CrPC states that if a person has been accused of more than one offence of the same kind, then the person can be tried for all the offences together if they have been committed within a span of twelve months from the first to the last offence. Section 219(2) of the CrPC provides that offences of the same kind refer to offences of the same kind and are also punishable with the same quantum of punishment.

Further, section 220(1) of the CrPC provides that if a person has been charged with more than one offence and all these offences are intrinsically linked with each other in that case, all offences can be charged and tried together. Furthermore, section 220(2) of the CrPC lays out that the offences of criminal breach of trust or dishonest misappropriation of property are committed along with the offence such as falsification of accounts, etc., the latter offence committed in order to fulfill the objective of the former offence. Thus, Courts may try such offences together. Moreover, section 220(3) of the CrPC further provides that if a single act of the accused falls within the definition of separate offences, then also, all such offences can be tried together. Similarly, section 220(4) of CrPC mentions that if there are several acts of the accused to constitute an offence, however, the acts in separate also constitute a distinct offence; in that case, the court can also try all the offences altogether.

Additionally, section 221 of the CrPC provides that if the accused has carried out a sequence of actions that result in a lack of clarity about the facts that need to be proven, they could face charges for any or all of these acts, and all these charges may be tried altogether. Section 223 of the CrPC provides about the joint trial of two persons together in a few circumstances, such as if they have committed the same offence in the course of the same transaction or the persons who have committed a particular offence and those who have abetted the commission.

These are statutory provisions that provide explicitly about the clubbing of trials. However, it must be noted that all these provisions are only enabling in nature, and it depends on the discretion of the court as to whether the trial shall be clubbed or not, as has been observed in the case of Ranchhod Lal v. State of Madhya Pradesh[19] Further, in the case of Union of India v. Ajeet Singh[20] also it was observed that these provisions only act as a guiding principle.

Moreover, section 210 of the CrPC outlines the procedure when a complaint case and a police investigation pertain to the same offence. According to section 210 (1) of the CrPC, in instances where a case is initiated through a complaint rather than a police report, and if during the court’s examination or trial, it comes to light that a police investigation is underway concerning the offence that is the subject of the ongoing examination or trial, the Magistrate is obligated to suspend the current proceedings and request a report from the police officer conducting the investigation. Section 210 (2) of the CrPC stipulates that if the investigating officer files a report under section 173 of the CrPC and, based on this report, the Magistrate decides to take legal action against an individual who is an accused in the complaint case, the Magistrate is then required to conduct a combined inquiry or trial for both cases. This joint proceeding will be conducted as if both cases had been initiated through a police report. Further, section 210 (3) of the CrPC outlines that if the police report does not pertain to any of the accused individuals in the complaint case or if the Magistrate decides not to initiate legal proceedings based on the police report, the Magistrate must then resume the inquiry or trial that had been temporarily halted. This resumption of proceedings should adhere to the provisions outlined in the CrPC.

In the cross cases that arise from the cross-FIR, the supreme court in Nathilal and Ors v. State of UP[21] held that, firstly, the same knowledgeable judge should oversee the sequential trial of both cross-cases. After the completion of recording evidence in the first case, the judge should proceed to hear the presented arguments while reserving the delivery of judgment. Subsequently, the judge should move on to preside over the cross-case, where, upon the culmination of recording all the evidence, arguments should be heard, and judgment reserved once again. The same judge must then conclude the proceedings by issuing two distinct judgments.

In the process of adjudicating each of the cases, the judge is limited to considering solely the evidence that has been documented within the confines of that specific case. Any evidence presented in the context of the cross-case should not be taken into account. Furthermore, the judge should remain impartial and not let the arguments or evidence from the cross-case influence their decisions. It is imperative that each case is decided solely based on the evidence presented within that particular case’s record, devoid of any influence from the opposing case’s evidence or arguments.

Furthermore, in the case of State of Rajasthan v. Bhagwan Das[22], the court focused on section 186 of the CrPC and observed that when multiple FIRs have been filed in different jurisdictions than in light of section 186 of the CrPC proceedings in all courts will be stopped other than in the court in the jurisdiction of which the proceedings were first commenced.

V. Conclusion

In conclusion, the practice of “Clubbing of Investigations and Trials” serves as a critical mechanism within the framework of our criminal justice system. Just as a careful shopper makes a comprehensive list to efficiently complete their purchases, our legal system aims to streamline the process for both victims and accused individuals. The instances of clubbing investigations and trials underscore the principles of fairness, resource optimization, and streamlined administration of justice. By enabling the consolidation of related cases, our legal framework ensures that justice is served effectively while safeguarding the fundamental principles of our democratic society. This approach not only respects the rights of the accused and the victims but also optimizes judicial resources for the greater public good.

End Notes: [1] (2013) 6 SCC 384.

[2] (2006) 6 SCC 181.

[3] 2022 SCC Online SC 1936.

[4] Amish Devgan v Union of India (2021) 1 SCC 1; Arnab Ranjan Goswami v Union of India (2020) 4 SCC 663.

[5] Amish Devgan v Union of India (2021) 1 SCC 1.

[6] Surender Kaushik and Others v State of Uttar Pradesh and others (2013) 5 SCC 148.

[7] State of Jharkhand v. Lalu Prasad (2017) 8 SCC 1.

[8] (2020) 4 SCC 663.

[9] (2007) 13 SCC 145.

[10] (2018) 4 SCC 579.

[11] (2009) 1 SCC 441.

[12] (2020) 3 SCC 54.

[13] Amitbhai Anilchandra Shah v CBI and another (2013) 6 SCC 348; C. Muniappan v. The State of T.N (2010) 3 SCC (Cri) 1402.

[14] (2010) 14 SCC 444.

[15] (2016) 3 SCC 8.

[16] Sudheer and Ors. ETC vs.State of MP 2001 AIR(SC) 826.

[17] State of MP vs Mishri lal AIR 2003 SC 4089.

[18] (2004) 13 SCC 292.

[19] AIR 1965 SC 1248.

[20] (2013) 4 SCC 186.

[21] 1990 (Supp) SSC 145; State of MP vs Mishri Lal (2003) 9 SSC 426.

[22] (2013) 13 SCC 574.

Authored by Shivam Mishra, Advocate at Metalegal Advocates. The views expressed are personal and do not constitute legal opinion.


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