Introduction: In a pivotal decision, the Delhi High Court has established a significant legal precedent concerning the rights of victims in the pre-trial stage of criminal proceedings. This judgment, rendered in the case of Vivek Kumar Gaurav vs Union of India (W.P.(C) 1603/2024), addresses the contentious issue of whether criminal courts are mandated to issue notices to victims or complainants before the trial officially begins.

It would be of extreme significance to note that while ruling on a very significant legal point, the Delhi High Court in a most learned, laudable, landmark and latest oral judgment titled Vivek Kumar Gaurav vs Union of India in W.P.(C) 1603/2024 and cited in Neutral Citation No.: 2024:DHC:895-DB that was pronounced just recently on February 5, 2024 has minced just no words to make it absolutely clear that it is not mandatory for the Criminal Court to issue notice to the victim or complainant at pre-trial stage. We thus see that the Delhi High Court had observed so in a Public Interest Litigation (PIL) that had been filed by a practicing advocate who was seeking directions to be issued to all the District Courts and the Police Stations also to supply a copy of the chargesheet, police report or final report to the complainant or victim free of cost and directions to all the District Courts to issue notice to the victims at the time of taking cognizance in pre-trial criminal proceedings. The Court concluded rightly that there are sufficient rights given to the victim/complainant to effectively participate in pre-trial and trial proceedings if he/she so elects. Accordingly, the High Court thus disposes of the writ petition.

At the very outset, this remarkable, robust, rational and recent oral judgment authored by Hon’ble Ms Justice Manmeet Pritam Singh Arora for Hon’ble The Acting Chief Justice Mr Manmohan and herself sets the ball in motion by first and foremost putting forth in para 1 that, “The present public interest litigation (‘PIL’) has been filed seeking directions to all the District Courts/ Police Stations to supply a copy of the chargesheet/ police report/ final report to the complainant/ victim at free of cost and directions to all the District Courts to issue notice to complainants/victims at the time of taking of cognizance, so as, to enable the victim/complainant to exercise his/her right to be heard and participate in pre-trial criminal proceedings.”

To put things in perspective, the Bench envisages in para 2 while elaborating on the facts and details of the case that, “The Petitioner, who appears in person is a practicing advocate, submits through his counsel that proviso to Section 372 of the Code of Criminal Procedure, 1973 (‘CrPC’) specifically, provides that the victim has the right to participate in the criminal proceedings that are initiated upon his/her complaint, however, there is no such provision for a direction to supply chargesheet to the victim.

2.1. He states that the Scheduled Tribes (Prevention of Atrocities) Act, 1989 (‘SC/ST Act’) categorically provides that the copy of the chargesheet is to be provided to the victim, free of cost, however, there is no such similar provision in CrPC. He states that such a distinction of existence of provisions in a special Act, which mandates the supply of chargesheet to the victim, free of cost and absence of such a similar provision in CrPC is violative of Article 14 of the Constitution of India.

2.2. He states that the judgment passed by the Supreme Court of India in ‘Jagjeet Singh v. Ashish Mishra’ (2022) 9 SCC 321, recognizes that the victim has a right to be heard and participate in criminal proceedings.

2.3. He states that during the proceedings initiated under CrPC, the Complainant is not informed about the date/time, when the charge-sheet has been filed. He states that this Court may issue a direction to all District Courts to ensure that notice is issued to the victim, informing that the charge-sheet has been filed.”

While elaborating further, the Bench points out in para 3 that, “The learned Standing Counsel for the Respondent submits that Section 207 of CrPC mandates that the copy of police report and other documents shall be supplied to the accused at free cost. The Section 207 of CrPC reads as under:

‘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: —

(i) the police report;

(ii) the first information report recorded under section 154;

(iii) 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;

(iv) the confessions and statements, if any, recorded under section 164;

(v) 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 pleader in Court.’ (Emphasis Supplied)

3.1. He states that the proviso to Section 372 of the Code was inserted by Code of Criminal Procedure (Amendment) Act, 2008 (‘2008 Amendment Act’) with effect from 31.12.2009. The proviso reads as under: –

‘Provided that the ‘victim’ shall have a right to prefer an appeal against any order passed by the Court acquitting the accused or convicting for a lesser offence or imposing inadequate compensation, and such appeal shall lie to the Court to which an appeal ordinarily lies against the order of conviction of such court.’

He states that by the aforesaid 2008 Amendment, the definition of ‘victim’ was introduced and the word ‘victim’ was inserted at several places in CrPC by the 2008 Amendment Act. However, the word ‘victim’ was not inserted in Section 207 of CrPC and this clearly indicates the intention of the legislature.

3.2. He states that the Section 207 of CrPC is a special provision for the accused and is not applicable to the victim and the reason is that the criminal proceedings (FIR) are initiated by the State.

3.3. With regards to the issue of existence of mandatory provision for supply of charge-sheet to the victims, in the SC/ST Act, he states that offences committed under SC/ST Act are in the nature of personal offence. He states that the legislature was aware of the provisions under SC/ST Act and yet in the year 2008 while amending the CrPC elected not to make any amendments to Section 207 of CrPC. He states that this Court may take judicial notice of the delays caused in trial pending compliance of Section 207 of CrPC. He states any mandatory direction for prior supply of documents to victim will hinder the trial.”

As we see, the Bench then observes in para 7 that, “The aforesaid Rules make it clear that a party to a criminal case is entitled to obtain copies of the record of the case upon filing of an application. A party desirous of obtaining a free copy can also do so under Rule 5 by making an application in this regard.”

It must be noted that the Bench notes in para 8 that, “It has come to the attention of this Court that Ministry of Home Affairs, Government of India (Women Safety Division) has already issued direction to all states and UTs vide its office order dated 09th October, 2020 F. No. 15011/190/2020-SC/ST-W for implementation of ‘Standard Operating Procedure (‘SOP’) for Investigation and Prosecution of Rape against Women’ prepared by Bureau of Police Research and Development (‘BPR&D’). The said SOP pertains to sexual offences against women and children. In the said SOP at paragraph 23 with respect to the submission of charge-sheet police has been directed to provide a copy of charge-sheet to the victim/informant without any cost. The said order of Government of India along with the SOP is accessible on the website of Ministry of Home Affairs being https://www.mha.gov.in/en(URL:https://shorturl.at/ fstQW).”

Be it noted, the Bench notes in para 9 that, “We are, therefore, of the opinion that in view of the Delhi High Court Rules, as well as, the aforesaid directions issued by Union of India in cases pertaining to sexual offences against women and children there is an adequate statutory mechanism in existence for a victim or complainant to obtain copies/certified copies and no further direction as sought in prayer (a) of the writ is merited. The Petitioner will be at liberty to approach the Trial Court which passed the order dated 27th September, 2023 for modification relying upon the SOP referred to above.”

It is worth noting that the Bench clearly specifies in para 10 noting that, “With respect to the right of the complainant/victim to be heard at the time of taking cognizance and in pre-trial criminal proceedings has already been recognized by Supreme Court of India in Jagjeet Singh v. Ashish Mishra (supra). In the said judgment, the Supreme Court of India has already held that wherever the victim comes forward to participate in the criminal proceedings, he/she will be accorded an opportunity of a fair and effective hearing. Therefore, if a victim approaches the Criminal Court for hearing during cognizance and pre-trial, the said Court is bound to hear the victim in view of the aforesaid judgment of the Supreme Court of India. However, the said judgment itself records that the said opportunity of hearing is to be granted to the victims who come forward to participate in the criminal proceeding.”

Most significantly and so also most forthrightly, the Bench mandates in para 11 propounding that, “There is no mandate in the statute obliging the Criminal Court to issue notice to the complainant/victim at pre-trial stage. We are unable to accept the suggestion of the Petitioner that it should be made mandatory for the Criminal Court to issue a notice to the complainant/victim at every stage of the pre-trial and trial in criminal proceedings. In the opinion of this Court, such a direction is likely to result in avoidable and undesirable delays in trials and is likely to work against the objective of expeditious trials. The suggestion of the Petitioner if accepted would act as ‘a treatment worse than the disease’. Thus, in view of the judgment of the Supreme Court in Jagjeet Singh v. Ashish Mishra (supra) and the amendments made to CrPC by the 2008 Amendment Act, there are sufficient rights given to the victim/complainant to effectively participate in pre-trial and trial proceedings if he/she so elects. This Court therefore, finds no ground for issuing directions as sought in prayer (b) of the writ.”

Finally, the Bench concludes by directing in para 12 that, “With the aforesaid directions, the present petition and application stand disposed of.”

All told, we thus see that the Delhi High Court has made it indubitably clear that it is not mandatory for the criminal court to issue notice to the victim at pre-trial stage. Of course, this must be paid heed to by all the courts. No denying it!

Conclusion: The Delhi High Court’s decision marks a crucial juncture in the discourse on victim rights within the Indian criminal justice system. By determining that it is not mandatory for criminal courts to issue notices to victims at the pre-trial stage, the Court has underscored the importance of expediency in the trial process, while also acknowledging the established avenues through which victims can engage with the proceedings. This judgment not only clarifies the legal obligations of criminal courts but also reinforces the delicate equilibrium between ensuring justice for victims and maintaining the integrity of the criminal trial process.

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