In the realm of criminal law, the Code of Criminal Procedure (CRPC) plays a pivotal role in regulating the proceedings in various stages of a case. Section 216 of the CRPC deals with the alteration or addition of charges during the course of a criminal trial. However, a recent judgment by the Hon’ble Supreme Court of India, as well as precedents from higher courts, have shed light on the maintainability of applications filed under Section 216 CRPC.
The Law Settled by the Hon’ble Supreme Court
In the case of P. Kartikalakshmi v. Sri Ganesh (2017), the Hon’ble Supreme Court addressed the scope and applicability of Section 216 CRPC. The court made a significant observation regarding the exclusive authority of the court to invoke this provision. It emphasized that Section 216 CRPC is a tool for the court to enable the alteration or addition of charges before the pronouncement of judgment. The court unequivocally stated that neither the prosecution nor the accused possesses a vested right to seek such alterations or additions. Allowing such a course of action would not only hinder the progress of criminal proceedings but also jeopardize the concept of a speedy trial.
The Distinction Between False Promise and Breach of Promise
A crucial issue that often arises in criminal cases is whether a breach of promise to marry can constitute an offense under Section 376 IPC (Indian Penal Code). This question was addressed by the Hon’ble Supreme Court in the case of Naim Ahamed Vs State (NCT of Delhi) in 2023. The court clarified that there is a significant difference between making a false promise with no intention to marry and genuinely intending to marry but facing unforeseen circumstances beyond one’s control.
In cases of a false promise, the accused never had the intention to fulfill their commitment and used it to exploit the victim for their own desires. On the other hand, in the case of a breach of promise, the accused might have genuinely intended to marry but encountered unexpected obstacles. Therefore, treating every breach of promise to marry as a false promise and prosecuting it under Section 376 IPC would be unjust. Each case must be assessed based on its specific facts and circumstances.
Maintainability of Applications under Section 216 CRPC
Considering the legal principles established by the Hon’ble Supreme Court and other higher courts, it is evident that the power to alter or add charges under Section 216 CRPC rests solely with the court. Neither the prosecution nor the accused can demand such alterations or additions as a matter of right. While the court has broad discretionary powers under this provision, it cannot create an entirely new case or change the core of the chargesheet.
Furthermore, it is essential to understand that the exercise of discretion by the court should be fair, just, and in accordance with established principles of law. Arbitrary or whimsical use of this power is contrary to the fundamental principles of justice and goes against the principles of equality (Article 14) and the right to life and personal liberty (Article 21) guaranteed by the Constitution of India.
The maintainability of applications under Section 216 CRPC is a matter of utmost importance in the criminal justice system. The recent judgments by the Hon’ble Supreme Court emphasize the need for a judicious exercise of discretion by the court when dealing with requests for alterations or additions of charges. While the court has the authority to make such changes, it must be done in a manner that upholds the principles of justice, fairness, and equality. This ensures that the criminal justice system remains efficient and protects the rights of all parties involved.