Summary trials and the worries | The Daily Star
12:00 AM, December 04, 2010 / LAST MODIFIED: 12:00 AM, December 04, 2010

Summary trials and the worries

There is no denying that criminal offences cause worries in the minds of citizens and thus it was not surprising for many concerned Bangladeshis to be worried about the increasing incidents of the so-called eve-teasing. There was widespread criticism of the lack of speedy and prompt action from the authority in tackling the offence and the offenders. One remedy that followed the public outcry was the application of summary trials to counter this dimension of juvenile delinquency.
While following the application of summary trials there have been some punishment of a few bad hats across the country and the public experienced some relief, there have been, however, objections from concerned lawyers to the effect that the summary trials have been perfunctory and have not met the ends of justice. Such lawyers have brought the matter to the notice of the higher judiciary.
It is, therefore, in the fitness of things that one should try to find out the meaning of the letter and spirit of the relevant legal provisions of summary trial. At the outset, it has to be borne in mind that laws relating to summary trials do not infringe the equal protection clause of the constitution. There is no denial of fair trial to a person who is tried in a summary way.
In fact, the pettiest offences have been grouped together and put into one class. The object with which it has been done is to ensure speedy trial of persons committing the offences in the group. There is a well-defined classification and no ground for apprehension of capricious discrimination by judicial authority.
Whether an offence is to be tried summarily or not is to be determined by the facts stated in the complaint as well as the sworn testimony of the complainant. The magistrate is competent to dispose of a case summarily where the facts which are alleged to have taken place disclose an offence that is triable summarily. Similarly, when the magistrate ascertains from the evidence that the facts alleged to have taken place disclose an offence that is triable summarily, he can dispose of the case summarily.
A summary trial is undesirable in a case where a large number of correspondences have to be gone into and the case is by no means of a simple character. It is undesirable where the complaint petition discloses a very serious or heinous offence and there must not be any effort to reduce it into a lighter one so as to enable the magistrate to clutch at a jurisdiction to try the case summarily.
The responsibility thrown on magistrates entrusted with summary power is very great. They should take care that the procedure and the record are not made more summary than what the law has laid down. The object of a summary procedure is to shorten the course of trial, but is nevertheless incumbent on the magistrate to put on record sufficient evidence to justify his order.
It has to remembered that if the particulars required by section 263 of Criminal Procedure Code are not clearly given in a judgment in a summary trial convicting the accused, the judgment is defective and the conviction cannot stand. The record should be written by the magistrate himself and the same should be made at the time of the trial and not afterwards.
In summary proceedings a certain expedition is intended and indeed is most desirable. But the summary procedure laid down in the Criminal Procedure Code must not be made more summary. Section 263 of Criminal Procedure Code lays down the minimum requirements of the law. While this section dispenses with the formality of recording evidence, it does not dispense with the necessity of hearing evidence or of following the procedure for summary trials. In short, section 263 merely relieves the court of the burden of recording evidence.
In summary trials, it is very important that there should be clear findings on questions of fact, because it is only through such findings that the court of revision can form its own judgment with regard to the legality or otherwise of the proceedings of the summary trial court.
Section 263(h) of the Criminal Procedure Code enjoins that a brief statement of reasons for the order should be given by the magistrate. It is absolutely necessary that this should be done, otherwise the general public is likely to lose faith in the administration of justice.
In a summary trial a brief statement of the reasons would necessitate at least a short summary of what the prosecution witnesses had said, so as to indicate that the evidence had made out the case with which the accused had been charged, and also an indication that the magistrate has believed that evidence. If there was defence evidence, it would further be necessary to say why the magistrate preferred the evidence of the prosecution to that of the defence.
The magistrate in a summary trial must, in recording the reasons for the conviction, state them in such a manner that the High Court may in revision judge whether there were sufficient materials before the magistrate to justify the conviction. The magistrate should set out so much of the reasons that have influenced him as to satisfy the accused that the magistrate has considered each of the ingredients of the offence.
The reasons mentioned above should be recorded with brevity, but such brevity should not be such as to tend to obscurity. These safeguards are essential so that sufficient materials are on record in the event of a revision. Therefore, a judgment in a single line is not a judgment according to law.
The judgment in a summary trial must contain a sufficient record of the substance of the evidence given in the case. This means a judicious selection or précis of that part of evidence which was really material. The appellate court should be able to form its own opinion on the merits of the case and for that purpose has before it the magistrate's statement of the substance of the evidence.
From the foregoing it is clear that if the summary trials are held in a careful and circumspect manner then the ends of justice can be met and the suffering public's woes can be redressed in a significant manner without venturing to craft additional legislations.

Muhammad Nurul Huda is a columnist for The Daily Star.

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