Stages of Criminal Case

The Indian Judicial System is based on three pillars i.e. Substantive law, Procedural law, and Evidentiary law. The Procedural law defines the procedure of arrest of an accused, the procedure for the investigation of the trail, etc. These are the procedures that are defined under the Code of Criminal procedure (CrPC). Fair trial is the most intrinsic part of Article 21 of the Constitution. It is based on the basic principle of presumption of innocence.

Justice must not only be done but it should be visible to everyone that justice has been done. It was the duty of the court to take care of every citizen from the feeling that he could not get justice from the court because the opposite party was socially, economically, or politically powerful in position and thus could manipulate the legal process. If such a belief is established in the mind of an ordinary man, who tries to reach the court for justice, it would certainly develop a sense that the judge, who could not deliver justice to him, is somehow biased.

It is important to note that in order that people may not lose trust in the administration of criminal justice, no one should be granted a permit to supersede the legal process.  Additionally, an accused also has several pretrial and posttrial rights as well that are guaranteed to the accused under the CrPC.

A fair trial is one in which the rules of evidence are honored, the accused has competent counsel, and the judge enforces the proper courtroom procedures – a trial in which every assumption can be challenged.

Harry Browne


The right to a fair trial is one of the criteria of international human rights law and is also approved by many countries in their procedural law. Countries like the U.S.A., Canada, U.K., and India have adopted this measure and it is enshrined in their Constitutions.  The right to a fair trial has been determined through numerous international instruments.

The major characteristic of a fair criminal trial is sustained in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, 1948. The prosecutor is the chief practitioner of criminal law. He speaks for the concern of the State and by that the interest of the public in constituting and managing a lawful and orderly society. Inspection of an offence is what anticipates a trial.  The bed-rock of this article is based on the principles:

  • Prosecutions shall be proposed only when there is sufficient witness;
  • the verdict to allege or not to allege is a prosecutorial opinion and not an adjudicative power of the court.

Under the current jurisprudence in a criminal matter, the innocence of the offender is assumed; but the assumption is to be assessed based on interpretations of a reasonable prudent man. Smelling suspects for the well- being of providing the benefit of doubt is not the law of the land. If arms and ammunition are restored at the instance of, or on acknowledgment by the accused, it can be stated that the assumption of innocence would not continue. The accused has to justify his possession or revelation and it would be based upon the facts of each instance which is to be judged from the perspective of a reasonable prudent man.[1]

As far as the Indian judicial structure is concerned, the international agreement of fair trial is very much highlighted in its constitutional strategy as well as procedural law. Indian judiciary has also highlighted the crucial aspect of a fair trial in several cases. It is a method to protect individuals from the illegal and unreasonable reduction or deprivation of their fundamental rights and freedoms, the most essential of which is the ‘Right to Life and Liberty’ of the person. The theory of fair trial is based on the basic principles of natural justice i.e. audi alteram partum and nemo judex in causa sua. ( ‘hear the other side’ and ‘no one should be a judge in their own cause’).

Fair Trail

The theory of fair trial is based on the fundamental view that the State and its departments have the obligation to produce the accused before the law. In their battle against an offence and default, State and its officers cannot on any detail repudiate the dignity of the State’s conduct. Further, the State should not have a remedy to an extra-legal scheme for the well- being of disclosure of an offence. For how can they assert on good conduct from others when their own conduct is at fault, unjust, and illegal?

Therefore, the method accepted by the State must be just, fair and reasonable. The Indian courts have perceived that the primary aim of criminal procedure is to assure a fair trial of an offended person.[2] Human life should be valued and a person liable for any crime should not be executed unless he has been given a fair trial and his guilt has been substantiated in such trial.

In Zahira Habibullah Sheikh and Ors. v. State of Gujarat and Ors.[3], the Supreme Court of India observed. “each one has an intrinsic right to be dealt with reasonably in a criminal trial. Rejection of a fair trial is a gross inequality shown to the culprit as well as the victim and society. A fair trial would apparently mean a trial before an unbiased judge, a fair prosecutor, and a surrounding of judicial calm. Fair trial means a trial in which inclination or prejudice for or against the culprit, the evidence or the cause which is being tried, is removed.”

The right to a fair trial is basic security to assure that individuals are guarded against illegal or arbitrary destitution of their basic rights and freedoms and the most important of the Right to Liberty and Security of a person.

Principles of Fair Trial

1.       Adversarial trial system

The method adopted by the Criminal Procedure Code of 1973 is the adversary system established based on the accusatorial process. In the adversarial system, the onus for the production of a witness rests on the prosecution with the judge acting as an unbiased referee. This process of criminal trial considers that the State, by using its investigative department and government counsels will charge the offender who will also take the advice of the best counsel to rebut and disprove the witnesses of the prosecution.

The Supreme Court has recognized that if a Criminal Court is to be a valid instrument in disbursing justice, the governing judge must refrain and act as a spectator and a mere recording machine. He must become an active member in the trial by declaring an intelligent active interest.[4]

2. Presumption of innocence

All criminal trials initially begin with the presumption of innocence in favor of the offender. The onus of proving the guilt of the offender rests upon the prosecution and unless it diminishes itself of that onus, the courts cannot register a decision holding the offender guilty. This assumption has been adopted from the Latin legal principle‘ei incumbit probatio qui dicit, non qui negat,’ which translates to, ‘the onus of proof rests on who asserts, not on who denies.’[5]

In the case of State ofU.P. v. NareshandOrs.,[6] The Supreme Court said thatan offender is assumed to be honest unless his culpability is proved.The presumption of innocence is a natural right that is subject to statutory exceptions. This theory establishes the basis of criminal jurisprudence in India.

3.      Independent, impartial, and competent judges

The basic theory of the right to a fair trial is that any process in any criminal case is to be conducted by a competent, independent, and impartial court. In a criminal trial, as the state is the summoning party, and the police is also a department of the state, it is crucial to note that the judiciary is free from all skepticism of executive dominance and restriction, whether direct or indirect. The whole onus of fair and unbiased trial thus lies on the Judiciary.

The main theories behind these principles are:

  • That no man shall be a judge in his own cause i.e.nemo judex in causa sua. Section 479 of Cr.PC, restricts trial of a case by a judge or magistrate in which he is a party or otherwise personally interested. This restriction can be eliminated by attaining the acceptance of the appellate court.
  • Autrefois Acquit and Autrefois Convict: Through this doctrine, if a person is tried and acquitted or convicted of a crime he cannot be convicted again for the same offence or on the same facts for any other offence. This doctrine has been substantially incorporated in Article 20(2) of the Constitution and is also embodied in Section 300 of Cr. P.C.

The CrPC entitles an accused of certain rights during any investigation, enquiry or trial of an offence with which he is charged.

1.      Knowledge of the Accusation

Fair trial requires that the accused person is given a chance to save himself. But this chance will have no meaning if the offender is unaware of the allegations leveled against him. Therefore, Cr.PC. under Sections 228, 240, 246, 251 incorporate that when an offender is presented before the court for trial, the charges of the offense of which he is guilty shall be made known to him.

2.      Right to an Open Trial

Fair trial also includes a public hearing in an open court. The right to a public hearing means that the hearing should as a rule be conducted orally and publicly, without a specific request by the parties to that effect. A decision is treated to have been made public either when it was orally pronounced in court or when it was published, or when it was made public by a mixture of those ways.

3.      Aid of counsel

The key feature of fair trial involves two points mainly:

  • a chance to the offender to get a counsel of his own choice; and
  • the state must appoint a counsel to the accused in certain cases.

In India, the Right to a Counsel is observed as a fundamental right of an arrested person under Article 22(1). It states that no person shall be denied the right to consult and to be defended by, a legal practitioner of his choice[7]Sections 303 and 304 of the Code are a manifestation of this constitutional mandate.

4.      Expeditious trial

Speedy trial is essential for the Judiciary to gain public confidence. Delayed justice leads to unnecessary harassment. The concept of speedy trial is an important part of Article 21 of the Constitution. The right to speedy trial initially begins with real restriction charged by arrest and subsequent confinement and continues in all the stages namely, the stage of investigation, inquiry, trial, appeal, and revision.

5.      Protection against illegal arrest

Section 50 of CrPC states that any person arrested without a warrant should be informed of the grounds of his arrest immediately[8]. The duty of the police when they arrest without a warrant is to be prompt to observe the incident of crime, but they ought to be apprehensive to avoid mistaking the innocent for the guilty. The onus is on the police officer to inform the court before which the detention is challenged that he/she had reasonable grounds to arrive at that conclusion.

6.      Proceedings in the presence of the accused

The fair trial principles make it necessary to conduct all proceedings associated with the case in the presence of the offender or his counsel. The basic theory behind this is that in a criminal trial, the court should not advance ex parte against the offended person. It is also important for the accused to know the prosecution’s case thoroughly and to understand the nature of evidence against him so that he can prepare his defence.


The judge is not to interpret any assumption against the respondent from the fact that he has been accused of a crime and is present in court and represented by a counsel. He/She must determine the case not merely by relying on the evidence presented before him/her during the trial. In the case of State of U.P. v. Naresh and Ors., it was held that the law in this view is well established that while dealing with a judgment of dismissal, an appellate court must recognize the whole witness on record to reach at a decision as to whether the views of the trial court were contradictory or otherwise unsuitable.


  1. What are the stages of a criminal trial process?
  2. What are the stages of a crime?
  3. What is meant by an offence under the CrPC?
  4. What is Double Jeopardy?
  5. What does Article 22(1) of the Constitution mandate?


  1. www.

  • [1] D. N. Sen, the Code of Criminal Procedure, Vol. P, Edn. 2005, Premier Publishing Company, p.5
  • [2] Talab Haji Hussain v. Madhukar Purshottam Mondkar, AIR 1958 SC 376
  • [4] Ram Chander v. State of Haryana, (1981) 3 SCC 191
  • [5]
  • [6] (2001) 4 SCC 324
  • [7] Article 22 of the Constitution of India, 1950.
  • [8] Section 50 of Cr.P.C, 1973.

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