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CONTENT OF CHARGE

By

Anam Danish, V year of B.A.,LL.B.(Hons.) from Jamia Millia Islamia


Introduction

Section 2 (b) of the Code of Criminal Procedure, 1973 lays down the definition of charge.


The provision specifies what charge is and what it includes, especially when there exists more than one charge. However, the definition of charge in CrPC seems entirely vague and is not very layman-friendly, which is why defining it becomes so important, all while keeping the code’s intentions about the definition of charge clear. An individual can commit multiple offences just by committing a single act. For instance, A stole all the jewellery in B’s house by keeping the inmates at gunpoint. Here, A has committed house-trespass, theft, theft in a dwelling house, illegal possession of arms, assault and so on.


As soon as any criminal proceeding commences the magistrate informs the accused the list of offences they have been charged with.

These offences collectively are called heads of charge.[1]


Meaning of Charge

As stated above in the previous paragraph the term charge has a vague definition. However, it is important to distinguish between the definition and meaning of charge. Both terms are often used synonymously. In criminal law, the term charge refers to offences that an individual committed and the charges against them. For instance, X is accused of theft, the charge here will be theft. Making, charge a ‘formal recognition against a person based upon the accusations against them, essentially charges help the person and everyone around them to put a formal name to their crimes’.[2]


Purpose of Charge

In V. C. Shukla. State[3] (Delhi Administration) it was observed that the purpose of the charge is essentially stating to the accused the list of offences they’ve committed, which ultimately helps the accused build a defence.


The charge generally speaking is specific. Helping the accused prepare a defence for the specific charge. Automatically, helping the prosecution too to build a case against the defendant ultimately leading to the commencement of the trial.[4]


Ordinarily, the burden of proof beyond a reasonable doubt rests upon the prosecutor to prove that the defendant is guilty, before the court. With each case, the prosecutor prepares for a different strategy. The weight undeniably varies from case to case (offence to offence). Offences that have a severe sentence i.e. ones which carry imprisonment for seven or more than seven years award a lower burden to the prosecutor, in comparison to offences which have a punishment of three or less than three years. Which is why it is so vital that the charge levied against the accused be specific to give the prosecutor a head start or a fair amount of time.


The system is built this way, to ensure that everyone gets a fair trial in case of severe punishments the charges need to be written down clearly and explained thoroughly. The accused should be present when the charges are read and explained.[5]


Contents of Charge: An Analysis

Section 211 and Section 212 of the CrPC lay down the types and the contents of the charge. In cases where the nature of the case restricts a thorough description of the case itself as mentioned above, one could explain or repeat in detail the manner in which the offence was committed, again the point is a fair trial for the accused. This would suffice as a form of notice for the accused as against the offence he/she is being charged with.[6]


Essentials of Section 211

● Nature and name of offence one are being charged with.

● Name and description of said offence.

● Description of offence, in case name of offence, is not laid down in law.

● The legislation and the sections involved.

Illustration:

A, when charged with the murder of C, becomes an offender under Section 299 and 300 under the Indian Penal Code of 1860. A murder charge would mean A’s act did not leave any room for it to fall under these sections’ General Exceptions. Not under the five General Exceptions of Section 300.


That would mean that when a charge is held against an individual, it automatically translates to the act fulfilling all stated legal requirements of the said offence, for it to constitute an offence under particular legislation.


Time, Place and Person

Section 212 exists to inform the accused and the prosecutor of the time, place as well as the number of people involved in doing it. To give fair notice to the accused, concerning the matter on hand. The notice shall contain the following:[7]

● Time/Place of the said offence.

● Name of the individual against whom the offence was committed.

● Name of thing against which the offence was committed.


This varies when the nature of charge comes down to movable property or misappropriation of money or criminal breach of trust. Crimes where one can’t exactly determine the amount or sum of damage. In cases like these, it is sufficient to specify an estimated amount or just the movable property in question. Additionally, the dates on which the offence was committed or if the offence was committed over a period or significant period need to be mentioned in the charge sheet. However, the exact items in the dispute or the exact dates need not be written down, as long as the crime has not been committed over one year.[8]


Form of Charge

A charge hence is the legal name of the crime that is being levied against the accused in the charge sheet, this becomes the form of charge. The charge sheet is a general and popular term used for the final report that the police (being the investigative authority) uses and is required to compulsorily submit under Section 173 of the CrPC. It contains the list of offences which the police believe the accused has committed based on the evidence collected with time and during the investigation. Yet, the actual charges are those which the magistrate recognizes against the person in question, i.e.the accused.[9]


After the accused is taken into custody the police continue to investigate the matter and gather evidence against them. If after such an investigation the police is firm on their belief that said person committed an offence a final report is prepared which summarizes the crime, its nature, the charges and the evidence gathered.[10]


With this report, the accused is brought before the magistrate. The magistrate after going through the report and making an inquiry informs the accused about what he is being charged with and writes them down on the charge sheet, separately. This charge sheet falls under the ambit of Form No. 32 under the CrPC listed under the second schedule.[11]


Contents of a Charge-sheet

The magistrate proceeds to prepare the charge sheet based on the evidence in hand and with what the accused is being charged with. As stated above, the magistrate to write down the details of a charge sheet relies upon Section 211 of the CrPC, specifying the section’s essentials. While Section 211 and Section 212 supply the law with additional or supplementary information which needs to be mentioned in the charge sheet in case of special circumstances.[12]


The contents of a charge which are must are as follows:

● The charge shall state theft if the accused stole. (Under the Indian Penal Code, 1860.

● Description of offence, if theft describes who it was against and what.

● Essential to list elements of the offence in the charge sheet.

● Each offence falling under related legislation has a list of ingredients. Each ingredient needs to be proved. The charge needs to specify them.


The magistrate cannot assume that the accused is proficient in law just because he/she went against it. Was the person stealing? Or does he fulfil any exception under the said provision? Did he steal or did he simply take something out of the owner’s possession to protect it from damage?


The magistrate has to be impartial; he/she shall then further explain the facts of the case and its elements. Can the magistrate successfully put the offender at the scene of the crime? If proved by a witness, yes. The magistrate cannot assume.

The charge needs to be followed up by prior convictions which would then ascertain the severity of his/her punishment. Enabling the trial proceedings to be fair, quick and easy. The details of the crime, i.e. the date, the time, the place need to be specified. It is common knowledge that in criminal trials these things are what make and break a case. The accused can simply dodge the entire case if they could only prove that they were not present at the location of the crime on the said date and time.[13]


The information concerning the crime which has been committed needs to be specified too. A person, an object. Whatever it is, needs to be mentioned clearly. Details of the victim will eventually help establish the motive and identity of the accused. It is important to note that it is completely up to the magistrate to decide how to explain the content of charge to the accused. Say the accused is hard of hearing or uses a hearing aid which is not currently present in the room. The magistrate can depict the nature of the charges to the accused through pictures. As long as the nature and content of charge are being conveyed to the accused through the magistrate the trial will be fair.


Errors in Charge and its Effect

When even a single detail about the nature or content of charge is insufficiently detailed or described in the charge sheet, it harms the charge, causing an error in the charge. Although, Section 215 states that an error in charge does not negate the proceeding or trial in itself in any sense of the way.


In the case of Tulsi Ram and Ors. v. State of Uttar Pradesh[14] in para 12 the judges said that a mere discrepancy in the charge is not enough, moreover why did not the accused step forward and confess their puzzlement with the said charges at a previous stage in the proceedings.[15]


Conclusion

The Code of Criminal Procedure defines the fundamental concept of law and procedure for the framing of charges. Although framing the charge with an error may lead to a trial which is completely or distinctly unfair and this stands against the principles of natural justice.


A reasonable standard of care needs to be followed. Any person convicted of an offence must be told of the crime. For a free and fair trial, the defendant must be made aware of the allegation against him so that he can prepare his case. The charges need be in the form mentioned in the code and the context of the charge should be as referred to in the Code, in such a way that the accused can clearly understand the charge levied against them. At any time during the continuation of the litigation, the Court has the right to change or add to the charge before the judgement is pronounced. But if in the judgement of the Judge or Magistrate, there is no prima facie evidence to create a case against the defendant, then the charge against the defendant must be dismissed and the defendant must be discharged in compliance with the statute.


[1]Ashish Agarwal, Meaning-Form-Content of Charge, Legal Bites

[2]Ashish Agarwal, Meaning-Form-Content of Charge, Legal Bites

[3] V. C. Shukla v. State (Delhi Administration) SC Criminal Appeal No. 494 And 493 Of 1979

[4]Ashish Agarwal, Meaning-Form-Content of Charge, Legal Bites

[5]Ashish Agarwal, Meaning-Form-Content of Charge, Legal Bites

[6]Arushi Gupta, Basis & Purpose of Charge under Criminal Procedure Code, iPleaders

[7]Arushi Gupta, Basis & Purpose of Charge under Criminal Procedure Code, iPleaders

[8]Arushi Gupta, Basis & Purpose of Charge under Criminal Procedure Code, iPleaders

[9]Arushi Gupta, Basis & Purpose of Charge under Criminal Procedure Code, iPleaders

[10]Arushi Gupta, Basis & Purpose of Charge under Criminal Procedure Code, iPleaders

[11]Arushi Gupta, Basis & Purpose of Charge under Criminal Procedure Code, iPleaders

[12]Arushi Gupta, Basis & Purpose of Charge under Criminal Procedure Code, iPleaders

[13]Sughandha Nayak, Framing of Charges, Mondaq

[14]Tulsi Ram V. State of Uttar Pradesh 1963 AIR 666, 1963 SCR Supl. (1) 382

[15]Tulsi Ram V. State of Uttar Pradesh 1963 AIR 666, 1963 SCR Supl. (1) 382