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Section 207: Inalienable Right of Accused

As the topic suggests, the present article mainly deals with the scope of Section 207 of the Criminal Procedure Code. The primary goal of the criminal justice system is to ensure a fair and speedy trial. Naturally, it has two goals: Firstly, it must be fair to the accused and secondly, it must also be fair to prosecution.

A definitive aspect of the Right to Fair Trial is to give an accused an opportunity to defend himself/herself in a case before the court of justice. An important feature of this opportunity is to inform the accused of accusations made against him, by way of supplying him copies of all evidence against him that are being relied on by the prosecution.

The right to life as well as free and fair trial is enshrined under Article 21 of the Constitution of India (Part III Fundamental Right), 1950 and further detailed in Section 207 of the Criminal Procedure Code (CrPC). Section 207 of the CrPC articulate the provisions of supply of documents to the accused in order to enable to prepare for his defence. It demands that copies of the police report, the FIR record under Section 154 CrPC, confessional statements, and other documents be supplied to the accused. The following paragraphs deal with this matter:

Supply to the accused of copies of statements and other documents
According to Section 207 of CrPC, the magistrate is under an imperative duty to furnish to the accused, free of cost, copies of statements made to the police and of others to be relied upon by the prosecution.

Section 207 reads as follows:
207. Supply to the accused of copy of police report and other documents: In any case where the proceeding has been instituted on a police report, the Magistrate shall without delay furnish to the accused, free of cost, a copy of each of the following:
  1. the police report;
  2. the first information report recorded under section 154;
  3. the statements recorded under sub- section (3) of section 161 of all persons whom the prosecution proposes to examine as its witnesses, excluding therefrom any part in regard to which a request for such exclusion has been made by the police officer under sub- section (6) of section 173;
  4. the confessions and statements, if any, recorded under section 164;
  5. any other document or relevant extract thereof forwarded to the Magistrate with the police report under sub- section (5) of section 173:
    Provided that the Magistrate may, after perusing any such part of a statement as is referred to in clause (iii) and considering the reasons given by the police officer for the request, direct that a copy of that part of the statement or of such portion thereof as the Magistrate thinks proper, shall be furnished to the accused:

    Provided further that if the Magistrate is satisfied that any document referred to in clause (v) is voluminous, he shall, instead of furnishing the accused with a copy thereof, direct that he will only be allowed to inspect it either personally or through a pleader in Court.

Therefore, Section 207 CrPC deals with the duty of furnishing to the accused copies of all materials has been cast on the magistrate who takes cognizance of it. There are two Provisos to Section 207 CrPC. The magistrate may, in accordance with the First Proviso, either supply copies of such Statements of witnesses as the Police Officer has requested under Section 173(6) CrPC or exclude them. Under the Second Proviso, where the documents are voluminous the accused may be allowed to inspect it personally or through Pleader in the Court instead of being furnished with copies. Each accused is entitled to receive a set of such documents.

Object
The purpose of the above-mentioned Section is to provide documents and copies of statements to the accused person so that he is aware of what he has to face at the time of the inquiry or trial and can prepare himself for his defence.

Scope of Section 207 CrPC
Section 207 of the Criminal Procedure Code recognises an accused's inalienable right at the start of a Criminal Trial. The aforementioned Section ensures that every document or statement sought to be relied on against an accused is fully disclosed to him. Only complete and fair disclosure of all documents or statements sought to be used against an accused in order for him to defend himself during the Trial can ensure a free and fair trial.

As a result, Section 207 of the CrPC requires an accused to obtain a copy of each of the following:
  1. Police Report:
    When the magistrate receives the final report, he or she is free to form his or her own opinion about the report and the evidence that was forwarded with it. In the event of a Closure Report, the court must summon the Complainant/Victim to hear his or her objections to the report. Following that, the court may, at its discretion, accept the report and file the proceedings accordingly. In the event that there is disagreement with the report, it is appropriate to direct further investigation under Section 156. (3).

    If the final report's facts constitute an offence, he may take cognizance under Section 190(1)(b). Section 173(2) of the CrPC requires the investigating officer to file his report. If the investigating officer believes there is sufficient evidence to proceed against the accused, a charge sheet must be accompanied by the documents or statements required by Section 173(5) of the CrPC.

    The officer must forward all material related to the case that is being relied on by the prosecution, excluding any that has already been forwarded to the Magistrate during the course of the investigation. Similarly, the Prosecution must forward all statements of witnesses recorded under Section 161 of the CrPC, whom the Prosecution intends to question before the Court in order to prove its case.

    In the case of Dharambir vs. Central Bureau of Investigation held that:
    "The scheme of the above two Sections indicates that the Legislature has intended to differentiate between documents forwarded to a court by the police along with the charge sheet or sent to it earlier during the course of investigation on the one hand and the statements of prospective witnesses recorded by the police during investigation under Section 161 CrPC, copies of which are also forwarded to the Court along with the charge sheet, on the other.

    This is plain from the language of Section 173(5)(a) when compared with that of Section 173(5)(b) read with Section 173(6) and the first and second provisos to Section 207(v) CrPC. For instance, the reference in Section 173(6) to 'any such statement' is to the statement of witnesses referred to in Section 173(5)(b) CrPC, i.e., statements recorded of prospective witnesses under Section 161 CrPC.

    In relation to these statements the police office has a discretion under Section 173(6) CrPC to withhold a part thereof if he forms an opinion that it is inexpedient in public interest to do so and inform the Magistrate accordingly. Further, the first proviso to Section 207(v) gives a discretion to the Magistrate to provide to the accused even those statements which 'the Magistrate thinks appropriate' shall be furnished."[1]
     
  2. First Information Report (154):
    The stage of recording a First Information Report under Section 154 CrPC leads to the creation of a Free and Fair Trail. In Siddhartha Vashisht @ Manu Sharma v. State (NCT of Delhi), the Supreme Court stated:
    "In the Indian Criminal jurisprudence, the accused is placed in a somewhat advantageous position than under different jurisprudence of some of the countries in the world. The criminal justice administration system in India places human rights and dignity for human life at a much higher pedestal. In our jurisprudence an accused is presumed to be innocent till proved guilty, the alleged accused is entitled to fairness and true investigation and fair trial and the prosecution is expected to play balanced role in the trial of a crime. The investigation should be judicious, fair, transparent and expeditious to ensure compliance to the basic rule of law. These are the fundamental canons of our criminal jurisprudence and they are quite in conformity with the constitutional mandate contained in Articles 20 and 21 of the Constitution of India."[2]
     
  3. Statements of Witnesses (161):
    Section 161 (3) CrPC requires an accused to obtain a copy of all witness statements. All witnesses who are familiar with the facts and circumstances of the case and who may be called as witnesses in court should have their statements reduced to writing.

    Each witness' statement should be recorded separately. Statements recorded by Police Officers under sub-section 3 of Section 161 CrPC should not be in the indirect form of speech. Statements taken by police officers under Section 161(3) of the Criminal Procedure Code should not be in the indirect form of speech.

    Section 161(3) CrPC, read in conjunction with Section 173(3) CrPC, clearly states that separate statements of all persons whom the prosecution intends to examine as witnesses must be recorded and copies provided to the accused prior to the start of the inquiry. The aforementioned provisions must be strictly followed.
     
  4. Confessions and statements (164):
    Section 207 (iv) CrPC explicitly states that copies of confessions and statements recorded under Section 164 CrPC must be provided to the accused prior to the case being committed under Section 209 CrPc.
     
  5. Document or Relevant Extract (173) (5):
    Section 207(v) CrPC states that each accused has the right to receive a copy of any documents or relevant extracts forwarded to the magistrate under Section 173(b) CrPC. Are electronic records also considered "documents"?

    According to Section 3 of the Indian Evidence Act of 1872, a "document" is "any matter expressed described upon any substance by means of letters, figures, or marks, or by more than one of those means, intended to be used, or which may be used, for the purpose of recording that matter."

    Similarly, the Information Technology Act defines a "electronic record" as any data, record, or data generated, image, or sound stored, received, or sent in an electronic form, microfilm, or computer-generated microfiche. As a result, reading the definitions in the Evidence Act and the IT Act together leads to the conclusion that electronic records, such as video recordings on a pen drive or a mobile phone, are also "documents" and thus admissible in evidence.

Exceptions:
There are some cases where the record is so large that it is physically impossible to share it with the accused. To deal with such a case, it is important to note that the magistrate has the authority under Proviso to Section 207 CrPC to withhold the supply of voluminous documents to the accused, directing that he will only be allowed to inspect it either personally or through a pleader in court, or else the magistrate must comply with the provisions of Section 207 CrPC under any circumstances.

Even with the advancement of technology, many courts have begun to direct the prosecution to make an e-copy of all documents and provide a soft copy of the documents in order to ensure S.207 CrPC compliance.

Conclusion
In accordance with Section 207 of the CrPC, a copy of the Charge Sheet, First Information Report, and all statements and confessions recorded under Section 164 of the CrPC must be provided. Without the provision of documents, any accused will be unable to defend himself, and any trial conducted in violation of S.207 CrPC will be unfair.

Ordinarily, the magistrate has no discretion in the matter of document supply under Section 207(v) CrPC. The magistrate's only limited discretion is granted by the Second Proviso to Section 207 CrPC.

End-Notes:
  1. 148 (2008) DLT 289.
  2. (2010) 6 SCC1.

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