Daily Editorial Analysis for 04th February 2023

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  5. Daily Editorial Analysis for 04th February 2023

Charge sheet scrutiny is not a case of prying eyes


The highest court of India reached the almost last frontier of transparency in its agreeing to the live telecast of some of its hearings, a move warmly welcomed by activists clamouring for more openness in judicial proceedings.

Key Point

  • The Chief Justice of India’s statement, that Supreme Court of India judgments will now be translated in four languages (Hindi, Gujarati, Odia and Tamil, as “the English language in its ‘legal avatar’ is not comprehensible to 99.9% of the citizens”) is another step towards making judicial processes more accessible.
  • A Supreme Court pronouncement on charge sheets appears to be retrograde.
  • The Court ruled that a charge sheet filed against an accused in a criminal case is not a ‘public document’ within the meaning of the Right to Information Act 2005 or the Indian Evidence Act
    • It is a step that may be viewed as a setback for those pushing for greater transparency in the criminal justice administration as this has several implications as far as investigating officials and victims of crime are concerned

What is a chargesheet?

  • A chargesheet, as defined under Section 173 CrPC, is the final report prepared by a police officer or investigative agencies after completing their investigation of a case.
  • After preparing the chargesheet, the officer-in-charge of the police station forwards it to a Magistrate, who is empowered to take notice of the offenses mentioned in it.
  • The charge sheet should contain details of names, the nature of the information, and offenses.
  • Whether the accused is under arrest, in custody, or has been released, whether any action was taken against him, are all important questions that the charge sheet answers.
  • When the chargesheet relates to offenses for which there is sufficient evidence against the accused, the officer forwards it to the Magistrate, complete with all documents.
  • This forms the basis for the prosecution’s case and the charges to be framed.
  • “The charge-sheet is nothing but a final report of the police officer under s. 173(2) of the CrPC,” the apex court held in its 1991 ruling in K Veeraswami vs UOI & Ors.
  • A charge sheet must be filed against the accused within a prescribed period of 60-90 days,otherwise the arrest is illegal and the accused is entitled to bail.

How is a chargesheet different from an FIR?

  • The term ‘chargesheet’ has been expressly defined under Section 173 of the CrPC but ‘First Information Report’ or FIR, has not been defined in either the Indian Penal Code (IPC) or the CrPC. Instead, it finds a place under the police regulations/ rules under Section 154 of CrPC, which deals with ‘Information in Cognizable Cases’.
  • The chargesheet is the final report filed towards the end of an investigation, an FIR is filed at the ‘first’ instance’ that the police is informed of a cognizable offense or offence for which one can be arrested without a warrant; such as rape, murder, kidnapping.
  • An FIR does not decide a person’s guilt but a chargesheet is complete with evidence and is often used during the trial to prove the offenses the accused is charged with.
  • After filing an FIR, the investigation takes place. ○ Only if the police have sufficient evidence can the case be forwarded to the Magistrate, otherwise, the accused is released from custody under Section 169 of the CrPC. The law laid down by the Supreme Court in 1967 in Abhinandan Jha & Ors vs Dinesh Mishra reiterates this.
  • After filing an FIR, the investigation takes place. Only if the police have sufficient evidence can the case be forwarded to the Magistrate, otherwise, the accused is released from custody under Section 169 of the CrPC.
  • The law laid down by the Supreme Court in 1967 in Abhinandan Jha & Ors vs Dinesh Mishra reiterates this.
  • A chargesheet is filed by the police or law-enforcement/ investigative agency only after they have gathered sufficient evidence against the accused in respect of the offenses mentioned in the FIR, otherwise, a ‘cancellation report’ or ‘untraced report’ can be filed when due to lack of evidence.

Why is a chargesheet not a ‘public document’?

  • The Court held that a chargesheet cannot be made publicly available as it’s not a ‘public document’ under Sections 74 and 76 of the Evidence Act, as argued by the Petitioners’.
  • Section 74 of the Evidence Act defines ‘public documents’ as those which form the acts or records of sovereign authority, official bodies, tribunals, and of public offices either legislative, judicial or executive in any part of India, Commonwealth or a foreign country.
  • It also includes public records “kept in any State of private documents”.
  • Section 76 of the Evidence Act mandates every public officer having custody over such documents to provide its copy pursuant to a demand and payment of legal fee, accompanied by a certificate of attestation along with the date, seal, name and designation of the officer.
  • “Documents mentioned in Section 74 of the Evidence Act can only be said to be public documents, certified copies of which are to be given by the concerned public authority having the custody of such a public document. Copy of chargesheets along with necessary public documents cannot be said to be ‘public documents’ under Section 74 of the Evidence Act.”
  • As per Section 75 of the Evidence Act, all documents other than those listed under Section 74’ are private documents.
  • As per Section 75 of the Evidence Act, all documents other than those listed under Section 74’ are private documents.
  • The Court rejected the reliance on its judgment by saying that the directions given by it in the 2016 ruling only applied to FIRs and could not extend to chargesheets.

Significance of adding Chargesheet as Public Document

  • Need not necessarily be posted on the website of the court concerned, public interest dictates a positive response to a request to peruse its contents.
  • It is true that vested interests in league with the accused might engage in finding loopholes in the charge sheet with a view to undermining the prosecution case.
  • Opportunity to evaluate the quality of an investigation.
  • The prospect of critical analysis by a rank outsider has the potential to enhance the soundness of an investigation and prevent tendentious prosecution against innocent individuals not based on facts.
  • A trial court will actually benefit from outsider scrutiny of the prosecution case if a charge sheet is made available to the lay public.

What is the Court’s refrain on the misuse of documents?

  • One of the concerns expressed by Justice MR Shah during the proceedings was the possibility of misuse by NGOs and ‘busybodies’ “Chargesheets cannot be given to everybody.
  • Vijay Madanlal Choudhary vs UOI’, where the Court held that ECIR is not equivalent to FIR and thus, the accused cannot be allowed a copy of the same.
  • Suffice it to observe that ECIR cannot be equated with an FIR which is mandatorily required to be recorded and supplied to the accused as per the provisions of the 1973 Code.

Contradicting an earlier order

  • The judgment seems to contradict an order passed by the Court where, in Youth Bar Association of India vs Union of India (2016), it directed that the First Information Report (FIR) in any case should be on the relevant investigating agency’s website within 24 hours of its registration.
  • In the Court’s view now, the charge sheet (i.e.,the Final Report specified by the Code of Criminal Procedure 1973) is on a footing different from the FIR, and hence cannot be shared with anyone other than the accused and the victim.
  • Charge sheet was a comprehensive account of the crime in question and had vital information such as a list of prosecution witnesses and documents in support of the investigating officer’s conclusions.
  • Such material would become public knowledge during the trial, in the top court’s view, any action to part with details contained in these documents even before a trial begins would be detrimental to the accused and the victim.
  • The Court has observed that open publicity to what is contained in the final report is not within the scheme contemplated by the Code of Criminal Procedure.

Times have changed

  • When confidentiality was the mantra in every aspect of judicial activity.
    • The slightest criticism of judicial decisions stood a fair chance of inviting contempt and punishment.
  • We now have a situation where judges are often criticised in the media for their judicial decisions that are unconventional and not in line with popular expectations.
  • We have even seen a judge’s personal life being subjected to public debate.
  • It is against this backdrop that the Supreme Court’s decision to keep charge sheets away from public knowledge could be disapproved by those who are constantly pushing to expand the frontiers of judicial reticence.


A chance for well­meaning members of the public to study a charge sheet, at least in important cases before a trial begins, will only ensure that prospects of loosely framed charge sheets will be fewer in number.

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